HR and wellness teams use two guiding questions when looking to add live, interactive, onsite or virtual corporate fitness classes to their wellness programs:

  • Which class format/modality maximizes budget by reaching the most employees?
  • How do the different class formats/modalities enhance the company’s culture?

Today we’re taking a look into how the virtual format can alleviate scheduling conflicts and diving into the employee experience so wellness program managers can avoid the pitfalls of oversimplified solutions and achieve sustainable long-term engagement.

The Virtual Corporate Fitness Class Revolution

Before March 2020, organizations mainly had one option for bringing group fitness classes to the workplace. COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to explore the response to online fitness classes. The benefits of live and interactive virtual fitness classes became clear:

  • Budget stretches further – reach a largely dispersed population more efficiently, achieving the same cultural benefits as onsite classes
  • Appeals to private employees – employees who might feel uncomfortable exercising in front of others find virtual classes attractive because they can keep their cameras turned off
  • Employee convenience – employees are more likely to find time for a virtual class, because they don’t have travel time and can easily log in from any device
  • Simulates onsite experience – employees can interact with the instructor and coworkers pre/ post-workout like a traditional fitness class

Virtual fitness classes are great for employees who want the convenience of working out in the comforts of their own living space. Employers benefit from having smaller schedules which helps them stretch their budgets further. While these benefits are significant, it’s important to know the tradeoffs for the increased flexibility:

  • Technology dependencies – the livestream experience is only as good as the weakest service: internet connection, platform reliability, and class reminder delivery
  • Livestreams focus on instruction, not interaction – best practice for livestreams is pinning the instructor’s video and muting employees during the workout, limiting dialogue to the chat box and posting reactions
  • There’s competition for the employee’s attention – what’s happening on the computer monitor is competing against everything else happening in the employee’s room

Put another way, the tradeoffs boil down to the employer having less control on what happens during a class. So how should virtual corporate fitness classes be delivered to manage these tradeoffs?

The Reality of the Virtual Corporate Fitness Class Experience

When we talk to organizations that tell us they’ve tried virtual classes, they tell us the class experience is about the same as an on-demand class–no interactions between the instructors and the employees. Their engagement is nowhere near the success Pinterest’s push to get their remote workers moving.

We forget that the virtual format has features designed to focus every employee’s attention on the instructor. Mics are muted; the instructor’s video is pinned to everyone’s screen; and the only way to talk is by typing (which they won’t be doing if they’re participating in the workout.) Spontaneous interaction is unlikely to happen. In fact, the features are so powerful at focusing everyone’s attention, employees are unlikely to think about interacting unless prompted by the instructor.

Instructors also have to manage the features proficiently. They’re not sporting 150”, wall mounted monitors to watch their attendees practice good form. They’re likely using an average 22” computer to coach the employees, and they have to be far enough away from their camera to give the employee participants visuals on the full range of motion required to do the workouts for the class.

If the employer and their wellness service provider are not aware of these small details, it’s unlikely they have an answer to facilitate engaging virtual fitness classes.

That’s why a common piece of feedback we get from our clients’ employees is how they feel like they’re getting personally coached by an instructor. The virtual format is designed to make a one-to-many connection feel like a one-to-one connection.

Done right, a virtual fitness class can be a compelling option for a corporate fitness program–not just a subpar substitute for onsite offerings.

Adapting Onsite Corporate Fitness Class Best-Practices for Virtual

When we first started offering onsite classes, we wanted to create experiences that went above and beyond the typical drop-in class available at the local gym:

  • Each employee would feel that every class was about them
  • Every employee would know they were on a fitness journey, and every class they attended brought them closer to their fitness goals
  • Employers could rely on us to report engagement metrics so they could analyze the effectiveness of their programs
  • Giving feedback should be easy and solicited often

With our high caliber instructors and the openness of an onsite format, every class could be tuned up to the quality we wanted. Fast forward to March 2020, and we thought we could apply our onsite formula to virtual. That would’ve been too easy. We still needed to figure out our answer for the tradeoffs we mentioned before:

  1. Technology dependencies
  2. The virtual class format focusing on instruction over interaction
  3. Competing for employee attention

The average US household has 42.86 mbps internet speeds which meets Zoom’s bandwidth requirements. We’ve found over the past few years delivering hundreds of virtual classes weekly that employee internet speed isn’t an issue, and hiccups on the virtual-communication platforms we use for our clients are rare.

The bigger challenge was creating an online registration and reminder experience that was as easy as signing up and walking into an onsite fitness class. We developed our own registration platform to make that possible, and our operations team is there to help make sure no employee slips through the cracks.

Next, we got to work on emphasizing human connection through our live and interactive virtual fitness classes to create an experience employees would want over a pre-recording they could pull up on YouTube. We worked with our instructors to get familiarized with the technology and train them to see the opportunities for different interaction during their classes.

We got the essence of the fitness class down so well that we deliver hundreds of live classes to our clients with consistent quality week after week. Our classes are engaging and well attended because we’ve:

  1. Developed our own registration portal to make signups and reminders streamlined
  2. Updated our fitness class playbook for virtual fitness classes to provide the same experience as our highly engaging onsite classes
  3. Continuously improve on the delivery of human connection as part of our service

We’ve covered how virtual corporate fitness classes can be a great option for building a fitness program, but there’s one logistical issue that needs to be handled to make sure each class is effective at engaging employees.

Scheduling Fitness Classes is Difficult Enough without Factoring in the Different Time Zones

Over the past few years, we’ve talked with many multi-site companies with constrained wellness budgets that have tried to schedule their fitness classes to be equally available for all their employees across different time zones.

Their HR teams make two discoveries after monitoring engagement for a few months:

  1. Employees have other commitments that crowd out the fitness classes
  2. The organization doesn’t prioritize employee wellness both on a cultural and operational level

What they realize is that their employees have schedules in constant flux week to week. Even organizations that have all their sites within one time zone encounter these challenges. Attempting to account for multiple time zones by finding a scheduling middle ground often produces lower engagement rates, because the scheduled time slots are suboptimal for everyone.

Companies with established wellness programs break down their wellness budgets by time zone to ensure their employees have wellness services that align with their schedules.

When multi-site companies approach us to help them develop their wellness plans, we always insist on conducting an employee needs & interest survey to understand how much time zones are a barrier for scheduling and finding opportunities where there’s overlap.

It’s a win for teams on a limited budget to find they can schedule an afterwork Pilates class for their New York employees that serves as a midday break for their California workforce.

But as we move into an environment where organizations have a mixture of both onsite and remote workers, organizations have to consider whether an onsite or virtual format will have the most employee reach.

The best tools for helping employers make this decision is having a predefined wellness budget and asking the employees.

A Quick Word on the Employee Needs & Interest Survey

We are a huge proponent of getting the facts right before beginning a wellness initiative. Knowing what our clients’ employees are looking for in a wellness program helps us ensure every dollar is put to the best use.

If you haven’t conducted an employee needs & interest survey yet or want an outside perspective on the data, book a discovery call with us to find the best opportunities to build out your wellness program. 

Should You Choose a Virtual Fitness Class Over an Onsite Class?

Even though onsite fitness classes have unique benefits that set the onsite classes apart from virtual, filling those classes can be more difficult than having the classes online. We’ve found that organizations that don’t have wellness deeply running through their culture do better with virtual classes, because the classes appeal to a wider range of employees.

The question to ask first is which experience will be the most compelling for the employee. Then follow up with comparing the benefits of virtual fitness classes and onsite classes.

Employees like having the option to engage with their virtual classes from a distance that onsite classes don’t allow. We briefly touched on how the tradeoffs for doing virtual classes boils down to less employer control of the class details. It turns out the trade of control is appealing to many employees who want to join fitness classes but don’t feel comfortable showing up in-person.

What we found is that when onsite classes were offered without considering the needs of the employees, there was a mismatch in motivations between the employers and their employees. Fast forward to today and the organizations that have experienced that mismatch are asking us how they can use their wellness programs to bring employees back into the office.

Each format has its own benefits to consider, and the best way to choose is starting with an employee needs & interest survey to understand what your employees want. By understanding what employees want, it’s possible to articulate how an alternative format can replace their preferred format.

What About On-Demand Fitness Classes?

Buying on-demand classes for employees can be a valuable supplement once the wellness program’s foundation has been laid. We find the allure of streaming anytime, anywhere is also a challenge for employees who don’t schedule in their wellness time. Organizations that have established wellness as part of their culture benefit the most from having on-demand subscriptions for their employees.

It’s also important to know that companies that sell on-demand content use a per employee/per month sale model with sales contracts that lock in those companies for a minimum of six months.

Here are two questions for evaluating if on-demand fitness classes are right for the organization:

  • “If fitness content is available free to stream on the internet, what are we paying for with an on-demand service?”
  • “How do on-demand services motivate and keep our employees motivated to workout if the internet, which is freely providing similar content, hasn’t motivated their behavior?”
  • “How will this contribute to improving our overall culture of health and social connection?”

If the answers are satisfactory, it may be useful to experiment with having an on-demand subscription as part of the wellness program. Alternatively, we have developed on-demand classes for some of our clients to complement the live offerings, which gives our clients the best of both worlds.

So What’s the Plan?

Once you have an annual wellness budget and the results from an employee needs & interest survey, it’s possible to evaluate onsite and virtual fitness classes to maximize the amount of dollars you’re spending to get the most engaging wellness offerings and reach.

Book a discovery with us. We’d love to help you strategize and implement an engaging wellness program for your employees in 2022.

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