Did you know sitting has been heralded as ‘the new smoking’ in terms of impact to our health? According to the World Health Organization, insufficient physical activity is one of the top four leading risk factors for mortality, contributing to more than three million deaths per year globally. Prolonged periods of sitting have other health risks too, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, musculoskeletal problems, some cancers and unhealthy weight gain. That’s why it’s never been more important to consider incorporating workplace wellbeing into company culture.
Many employers have grappled with how to encourage workplace wellness, resulting in company gyms or lunchtime fitness classes becoming a standard perk in many corporate offices. But the pivot to working from home – or, indeed, anywhere – is making it more difficult for employers to ensure their remote work employees are incorporating physical movement into their day.
Greg Stark, CEO of corporate wellbeing provider Better Being, says the fundamental principles of workplace fitness shouldn't change, regardless of where your employees are located. If you’re wondering how you can get your employees to exercise, wherever they’re working, Stark and Josh Marsden, co-founder of workplace wellbeing platform Active & Thriving, share their top tips below.
“An organisation I used to work with used an alarm that went off at 10am every day and everyone would stop, get up and stretch,” says Marsden. “It was so ingrained in the culture that if external stakeholders were at the office for meetings, it would be explained to them and they were invited to join in, if they felt comfortable doing so.”
An alternative would be to have team leaders incorporate a physical activity, such as a stretch, at the beginning or end of team meetings.
2. Encourage Walking Meetings
“There's been a lot of talk about Zoom fatigue, so rather than adding to the daily Zoom load, we encourage people to get on the phone, go for a walk and have meetings that way,” Stark says. Managers can be proactive about this by explicitly asking for a phone walking meeting when sending out an invite, and making the ‘walk and talk’ a part of the workplace culture. Alternatively, Stark suggests staff members use a phone call as an opportunity to get up and walk around. “I find it best for my brain function to get up andwalk around the room,” he says. “I have that as a cue for myself to incorporate more movement into my day, rather than just being stuck at the computer.”
“With clients we run group exercise classes for, we're dealing with the issue of them having staff working in multiple places,” says Stark. “What we’re encouraging them to do is to book a space in the office and host a livestream fitness session, so that everyone who's in the office can conduct that exercise session together and whoever's at home can do it, too.”
Working out together also helps build connection and company culture, which is another big challenge businesses with hybrid workforces are facing. “Popping out for a coffee together or after-work drinks is no longer always possible, but exercise is a fantastic way to do something together,” he adds.
While some organisations may have an onsite gym at the office, a great alternative for those offering flexible working arrangements is providing work-from-anywhere employees with free or subsidised access to an online fitness platform or gym provider.
“Online platforms can offer different physical activity challenges to do at an individual or team level, as well as mental health, sleep and wellness assistance,” says Marsden. “Offering these programs can help organisations with retention, employability, and overall culture.”
“Setting a physical activity or wellbeing goal as part of employees’ key performance indicators (KPIs) is a great way to make them accountable for their health and wellness,” Marsden says. “The gap with a lot of wellbeing programs is that they’re not embedded in performance and aligned to organisational culture and strategy. If you can put it into the KPIs and it’s leader-led, it becomes a lot more powerful.”
“If we look at daily work practices, the opposite of sitting isn't standing, it's moving,” Stark says. So, while providing standing desks – either at the office or at home – is a great option to improve office ergonomics, it doesn't necessarily mean your employees are going to be moving more.
To consciously incorporate movement into the working day and promote wellness in the workplace, Stark suggests employees should be encouraged to use technology to set reminders to get up and move around. “Whether that’s to make a cup of tea or walk to the other side of the living room or office and back, it doesn’t matter – just something to get moving,” he says.
Marsden says habit stacking is another effective way to incorporate additional movement into the workday. “The idea behind it is to look at activities you do every day, such as turning on your computer or getting a glass of water, then linking these daily habits to a movement.”
This could be as simple as encouraging staff to do 10 calf raises when they turn their computer on, 10 squats when they get a glass of water, or to conclude every workday with a walk around the block or a trip to the gym.
We’ve all worked with colleagues who complete half marathons, endurance events or charity hikes. Marsden says companies can harness these ‘fitness champions’ and encourage them to participate in events with workplace teams.
“If you can make it team-based, they’ll bring others along with them, and hopefully create new fitness habits that are of benefit to their colleagues over the long-term,” he says. For example, if the team commits to entering a charity walk, staff can complete the training in their own time and they’ll all be accountable to each other to ensure they prepare for the event.
Motivate employees to incorporate movement into their commute when travelling to the office.
If you offer workplace flexibility, encourage work-from-anywhere employees to spend some of the time they’re saving on commuting on fitness instead.
Whether in the office or at home, suggest employees take their lunchbreak away from their desk.
Ensure senior executives and managers are leading by example by prioritising their own fitness, health and wellbeing.