In the past several months, employers have been grappling with how to adapt business operations to COVID-19 recommendations, policies, and lockdowns. Alongside these changes, employee wellness programs find themselves restructuring to meet different needs for workers, as on-site wellness facilities closed and many struggled to reconfigure a healthy work-life balance, handle additional responsibilities at home, and face added pandemic-induced stresses.

In many places, employers have attempted to maintain the momentum of their in-person, on-site fitness offerings with new virtual options. Best Buy is just one of many of the businesses that hasn’t had employees working in its offices since lockdowns began. In mid-March, the technology retailer closed its corporate campus, including a 16,000-square-foot employee fitness center known as “The Wellness Zone.” The Wellness Zone is also the name of the company’s Facebook page that posts wellness content and information on their exercise programs and class schedules. Facing long-term remote work, the company had to put together a plan to keep their employees active and healthy while they were at home. Now, their Facebook page has become the main stop for all of their employees’ fitness and health needs.

Using Facebook Live, Best Buy’s wellness team began to stream fitness classes in order to fill the gap that their popular in-person training programs had left. To provide personal training options, the wellness team is using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and private Youtube videos. Since making these changes, Best Buy reports that employee feedback has been extremely positive. After the first week, only 15 employees had signed up for the virtual fitness program; but after four weeks, 105 people had joined.

In order to not lose the value of a wellness program, employers with on-site gyms that are currently being under-utilized should turn to virtual fitness options. By using a vendor like Wellable, employers can distribute a virtual fitness library of classes to their workers. Even if many employees have returned to on-site work, there may continue to be a larger-than-normal portion of workers that need to be remote due to needing to taking extra precaution with health concerns, having to quarantine, or needing to care for children or family members. Offering virtual fitness classes ensures that all employees have continued access to a fitness program to work on their well-being.

Future Of On-Site Gyms

If a business is able to achieve comparable engagement and effectiveness with their virtual fitness programs as much as their in-person programs, what does that mean for the on-site facilities that are currently being unoccupied? Employers may begin to think about how they can better utilize the resources that are going towards maintaining and staffing larger fitness facilities and equipment on-site. Cost savings could, potentially, be significant if they decide to not maintain an on-site facility.

However, employers may not want to jump to conclusions just yet. In-person training can be more convenient and engaging for certain employees, especially those with distracting or inadequate workout environments at home. A physical space dedicated to fitness can also have mental and social factors that encourage more engagement. In particular, while people may enjoy working out virtually because it can better accommodate their schedule and energy levels, the accountability of coaches and peers in their group can inspire them to push themselves further and make more substantial gains with their health goals. The location factor of already being at work may also increase a workers’ likelihood of taking advantage of those resources; once home, working out may never cross their mind.

Employees may also find that only certain programs are most effective on-site. When people begin returning to work, and if virtual offerings continue during this time, employers can track how their employees’ engagement has changed and make adjustments accordingly. It may be the case that certain things are more effective online, and vice versa. It may also be the case that some workers will prefer to maintain virtual or at-home workouts, making on-site facilities less busy. In these scenarios, on-site resources can be scaled down while maximizing employee results. Employers could also find it is more beneficial and cost-effective to provide employees with at-home equipment and tools rather than maintain expansive, heavily-equipped gyms.

No matter what, employers need to watch how their employees respond to changes in wellness program offerings. If decisions are made purely on cost and convenience, a program that was once effective may lose significant value when it comes to supporting productivity. On the other hand, this unique time period can provide an opportunity for businesses to discover new insights on how to increase the overall efficacy of their benefits.

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