Words by Indigo Clarke
Making time for exercise in our long-hours office culture is increasingly difficult. Indigo Clarke looks at the trend for workplace workouts.
A masseur on call, a yoga instructor on hand daily and a weekly personal trainer – what might sound like a brochure for a health resort has become common practice for today’s health-conscious workplaces.
With major corporations around the world – such as IBM, Google, Nike, MTV, Forbes and Apple – offering yoga and other exercise programmes to staff, employees are asking not what they can do for their office, but what their office can do for them, at least when it comes to health. Given the high mobility of modern workers, companies are finding they need to offer greater perks to secure staff. By providing facilities that enhance physical and psychological wellness, not only are employers creating a more positive experience for staff, but a more energetic, productive and efficient office.
The inclusion of exercise in the office, or at least the fostering staff wellness, has meant designing a lifestyle-appropriate workplace. It is not uncommon to find offices that include yoga rooms or designated exercise zones, shower stalls, bicycle racks to encourage cycling to work, on-site gyms and pools, and a growing number are taking it a step further with massage, sponsored marathons, sports teams and personal trainers.
“There have been gyms in the workplace for many years, but with the increased sophistication (and therefore competition) of standalone gyms such as Fitness First and Holmes Place there is less call for them to be designed into the workplace,” explains Simon Flint, associate partner at architecture and design practice Sheppard Robson. Flint has noticed three particular strands in the trend towards fitness and workplace design, stating that out-of-town corporate campuses often have different demands: “Their remote location requires extra amenities to attract and retain staff, while multi-occupant office developments require an exercise area – usually a gym or swimming pool – to attract the corporate occupants in the first place.” For inner-city office developments, though, Flint has found that gyms are often no longer part of the design, simply because of the availability of specialist gyms.
“Offering a gym will not necessarily attract staff,” says Flint. “To recompense, large companies will instead offer corporate memberships to various gyms. Workplace dynamics are constantly changing and the provision
of ‘break-out areas’ throws up more flexible spaces that can be adapted for different uses, be it a client meeting or yoga class. New buildings are now also incorporating bike racks and showers.” Staff at Sheppard Robson are personally involved in activities including cricket, rounders, football, badminton, touch rugby and bastketball, all sponsored by the company. Staff are also offered corporate gym membership and a regular monthly massage service.
Linda Morey Smith, director of London-based design practice MoreySmith, has seen a similar move within the workplace, with on-site corporate gyms phased out in favour of adaptable spaces. “Companies are now less likely to install actual gyms as only very large companies would be able to compete with a high-quality external gym,” explains Morey Smith. “However, the inclusion of showers and lockers for those that run or cycle to work, and a flexible space within the office that has the potential to be used for classes, for example yoga or pilates, are increasingly popular.”
Morey Smith not only designs desirable workplaces for others but promotes health and wellbeing within her own workspace, hiring a personal trainer to assist staff on a weekly basis. “Obviously at an individual level it’s great to have the opportunity to have a personal trainer come in, but it’s also good for the company and makes business sense – if people are fit and healthy they feel happier and will perform better.”
Michelle Dick, assistant designer at MoreySmith, has found that having access to a personal trainer not only supports good health, but also encourages positive attitudes and relationships among staff. “Knowing that my boss is willing to invest in my wellbeing makes me feel valued. It’s really motivating because if someone invests in you, you want to give a return,” says Dick. “Concern for the wellbeing of staff makes sense because if you’re physically and mentally healthy, you stay on the ball and are more productive. Working with the personal trainer also helps your relationship with colleagues – it’s fun and you are bonding doing exercise rather than over a drink at a bar.”