by John Salustri — Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of BOMA Magazine
The holidays are over, and they leave in their wake a few extra pounds and a fitness resolution that’s already hanging precariously from the pullup bar.
Tell your tenants not to fret. The office environment is here to help. Remember, it’s been reconfigured not only to maximize their productivity, but to do so in a style that reflects their work-life integration. As a result, a newly appointed corporate fitness center is just a few lumbering steps away.
Notice we didn’t say “gym.” The change in nomenclature reflects a broadening of the concept of health to include wellness, which embraces such lifestyle concepts as massages, nutrition, dog yoga, even financial wellness and professional development. And yes, you can also break a sweat if you want.
What’s more, you don’t even need to leave your office. Trainers are increasingly coming to you, a development that can well serve office buildings without the space or capital to create a formal center.
“We’re breaking down the four walls,” says Fitspot cofounder Sammy Courtright. For sure, workouts are still a big part of the overall offerings, but much of the emphasis today is not only on wellness, but also on socialization. So providers are also emphasizing yoga and educational workshops on topics ranging from nutrition to cancer awareness.
Freed from the need for heavy metal, fitness can take place virtually anywhere, says Courtright, including “inside a dedicated center or, if they don’t have space, we can activate lobbies, conference rooms, rooftops or unleased spaces.” The only heavy lifting comes on the part of the provider, who, she says, will move furniture and lug in plants as necessary to create a sense of “escaping from your work environment.”
“A fitness room really used to be more of a check-the-box leasing item,” says Jami Klausen, RPA, the Ryan Companies’ general manager at BOMA 360-designated AT&T Tower in Minneapolis. “It was an afterthought. Today, they’re a necessity with much more of an emphasis on community.”
Ryan uses third-party provider HealthFitness to keep the nearly 700,000-square-foot asset’s 25 tenants trim in mind and body. It’s an undertaking that program manager Kelsey Nasset says is about servicing the individual.
“People are becoming more aware that wellness is not just about strength or cardio,” she says. “They’re seeing the broad spectrum of health issues, which means a growing emphasis on providing education on all that entails.”
Beyond seminars on women’s and men’s health issues, she says, programs can be customized to address emotional health and even on-the-job injury prevention, especially as they pertain to repetitive tasks. Lunch-and-learn programs are also available, offering instruction on things like meditation and stress-relief techniques.
What’s in your wallet?
And it doesn’t stop there. Courtright’s shop offers a “very popular” program on financial well-being. “It’s considered one of the five major challenges to overall wellness,” she says, “along with nutritional programming, stress and sleep management, and physical fitness. Our goal is to help people with their financial goals and stability.
Stretching the limits—and definition—of wellness still further, Courtright says her firm also provides corporate headshots to enhance professional development offerings, another aspect of well-being.
“Everyone these days cares what their LinkedIn profile looks like,” Courtright says. “We host corporate workshops, where people can book a time to get their headshot taken.” There’s even a social media expert on hand to help them better promote their profiles.
Nasset points to the importance of walks, fresh air and communing with nature for stress relief and “to take small breaks from our computer screens.” She notes that the next logical step is fostering respect for our natural surroundings, so HealthFitness offers courses on environmental wellness and recycling, too. It makes sense, given our growing awareness of our environment. Stress relief in all of its forms, as Courtright says, “impacts productivity and engagement.”
Here you can begin to hear the subtle sounds of hiring and retention, and while it’s hard to parse out how much a wellness program can help either, the professionals interviewed for this article all agree with Micah Larmie, the senior vice president of Asset Services for Transwestern’s Midwest Region, who says: “It’s huge. If you have a Class A office building, you need programs that cater to those kinds of tenants— tenants who deliberately chose a Class A building because they know its offerings will help their retention and hiring. It’s a must-have…whether employees use it or not.”
And not every occupant will use a fitness amenity. In addition to a few smaller Minneapolis assets, Larmie manages Accenture Tower in downtown Chicago, a hotbed of competitive trophy buildings. The 1.5-million-square-foot asset, another BOMA 360 designee, is home to 5,000 people, 2,000 of whom are enrolled in the fitness program. But only about 20 percent of those enrolled regularly visit the 14,000-squarefoot center.
There’s an initial intimidation factor that leads to that shortfall. “Getting people to start using the facility is the biggest challenge,” she says. “I always see the same people in the fitness center. We do a lot of raffles and different social events to incentivize more people to use the facility. Once they’ve gotten their initial visit in, it’s no longer as intimidating.”
Your wallet, part two
Managing fitness center costs is also a challenge. “It’s never going to be a profit center,” says Larmie. It’s the cost of doing business, and she notes that in a building the size of Accenture Tower, it’s easier to spread the cost out than it is in a 300,000-square-foot asset.
In fact, Larmie notes “we stopped charging membership fees and made the costs part of common-area maintenance. We’re competing against Willis Tower and other trophy office assets with phenomenal fitness centers and tenant lounges. But they’re charging the individuals a membership fee.”
For Klausen and Nasset, the biggest challenge is, somewhat surprisingly, towels. Or more appropriately, the cost benefits of outsourcing such services as towel provision. “It’s very expensive,” says Nasset, “and we’re constantly weighing the pros and cons of hiring a service or doing it ourselves.” That balance flexes depending on occupancy. “We have a new, large tenant moving in this spring, and they’ll be adding 300 people. We’re at that tipping point of what makes financial sense. We have to balance the services we offer and constantly make sure we pick and choose the services that have the biggest bang for the buck for this tenancy.”
A smaller building can increase that cost-effectiveness by partnering with local fitness centers to capitalize on the above-mentioned mobility that has come to fitness. “
In our suburban markets that don’t have a gym,” says Larmie, “we’ve been successful partnering with local yoga studios and instructors who come in to teach classes that don’t necessarily require equipment. Sometimes they’ll do classes for free in hopes that tenants will sign up for membership in their facilities. That provides the opportunity for smaller buildings that don’t have the capital to create a true fitness center.”
Let’s get personal
It’s not just the size of the tenancy, but also its needs that define wellness for your asset. Increasing the membership capture rate through programs tailored to those needs is key to cost justification.
“It’s imperative to know your members, preferably by name,” says Fitspot’s Courtright. “They become advocates within a location and can help influence decision-makers. Also, analyze your audience and create programs around your members. Different companies have different needs, and the way you run your center has to match the population to create the best engagement.” Bankers, she says, may prefer early morning access; start-ups might be more flexible. Your program should be tailored to reflect those needs.
Finally, she advises one very old-school approach: “Have comment cards strategically placed in the fitness center. That in-person engagement is really beneficial.”
There’s no longer any excuse for tenants to forget their 2020 fitness goals. With the range of options at your fingertips, you can actually make it easier for tenants to dive in than to sit on the sidelines.
So, while we’re on the subject, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?
About the author
John Salustri is editor-in-chief of Salustri Content Solutions, a national editorial advisory firm based in East Northport, New York. He is best known as the founding editor of GlobeSt.com. Prior to launching GlobeSt.com, Salustri was editor of Real Estate Forum.