Feature Article - September 2008
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A Corporate Affair

Making a Fit Business

By Jessica Royer Ocken

On-Location Facilities

The most immediately accessible solution to employee exercise is a fitness area built right onsite at the office. Mark Porterfield, a project architect with Lothrop Associates LLC, a Valhalla, New York-based architecture and interior design firm that has worked on a number of corporate fitness projects, said that the basic and essential features of an onsite corporate fitness facility include a circuit-training area, a cardio area and a locker room.

A closet with an elliptical trainer stuffed in it doesn't count, he said. "Unless you're a large company that can provide a high-quality facility from a design and user standpoint…people that are really serious may gravitate toward a private facility," he added.

Your investment does no good if it's not being used. Plus, those who will work out elsewhere are not really your focus. It's the employees who are not active that you'll want to lure in with the sheer magnificence of your exercise palace! In Porterfield's experience, about 1,000 employees are needed to make an onsite center worth the investment, which can be as much as $2 million for a 6,000-square-foot facility—plus operating costs after that.

Begin by assessing the overall amount of space available, he suggested. And determine how many bodies are expected to use the center at a time. "That gives you a way to size locker rooms, which are generally what drives [the design of] a corporate fitness center," he said. "Those are the least flexible spaces because of ADA requirements and plumbing requirements."

After you've allotted space to your locker rooms, be sure there's enough space for a weight-training circuit. "If you can't fit 12 to 13 machines in, you're sunk," he explained. "Cardio equipment is also important, but the number of machines can be adjusted up or down relatively easily."

From there, if you still have funds and ideas left, creativity can take the lead. "Higher-end facilities tend to follow the same trends as private facilities," Porterfield said. For example, spinning has been a popular activity in the past few years, and although a corporate center may not be large enough to support a dedicated spinning room, stationary bikes can be stored in the back of an aerobics room and pulled out as needed. "I've seen boxing equipment put in—a heavy bag and a speed bag," he added. Other options include a retail area to sell company-themed T-shirts and water bottles or a small spa area to offer massages. "The larger the company and the more employees, the more they have to work with," Porterfield said.

However, no matter how large the company, swimming pools don't usually make the onsite cut as they're expensive to build and operate and find space for. Plus, you can only fit so many people in a lap pool, and many employees will prefer not to return from their lunch break smelling like chlorine. Saunas and whirlpools usually get the ax for similar reasons, although they might occasionally be incorporated into the locker room or spa area, Porterfield noted. But corporations usually don't err on the side of too much luxury. "The idea is to get people in and out," he said. "If you're running a company you want them back at their desk in an hour after working out at lunch."

Yet some companies have begun looking beyond the lunchtime workout to create a more recreation-oriented corporate culture. "Many of the corporations we work with have onsite sand volleyball courts, baseball fields or basketball courts," said Club One's VanDerLuit. "When new facilities are built, they put in a soccer field…[or] they want a great lawn for multipurpose use."

Besides providing the needed space and equipment, the next challenge of an onsite corporate fitness facility is keeping it running safely and effectively. Fortunately, this is where management companies come in. Mansfield said that Corporate Fitness Works has clients of all sizes—from 1,000-square-foot workout areas to 70,000-square-foot fitness complexes. And hiring an outside firm has benefits beyond not having to mess with something outside the company's area of expertise.

"Employees feel more comfortable knowing it's an outside provider who has access to their health data and records," Mansfield said. Although companies do want feedback on who's using the fitness facilities and the health of their employee population, "we only give out aggregate reports," she said. Another advantage of outsourcing is the array of programs and services experts can offer. "We have a network of information based on all the clients we serve, so we can determine best practices and put them into effect," Mansfield said.

Outside staffing also ensures the fitness center will be open at convenient times. "Typically a corporate fitness center is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday," VanDerLuit said. "Very few are open less, but some are open more." Staffing options range from a one-man or -woman show to a full team that can provide group exercise classes, health screenings, "lunch and learns," sports and recreation programming and personal training, she noted. An added benefit of partnering with Club One is that the company also owns commercial health clubs, so the corporate contract may allow employees and their families to use offsite facilities on the weekends or to supplement their workout options (as many times security factors make onsite corporate fitness facilities strictly for employee use during business hours).