Training & Supporting Fitness Staff During COVID

Part five of CFWs ‘The Great Corporate Fitness Reboot’ blog series.

Written by: Elisa Denning, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications


Throughout our reopening blog series, we have shared a great deal of insight on how to prepare your facility, equipment, operations, and how to welcome back members in these times of COVID. But what about the fitness staff? Are they ready to return? Have they been trained on all the updated policies and procedures for upholding health and safety requirements? How are they feeling physically, mentally? Are resources in place to support their health and safety?

Reopening your fitness center safely and successfully hinges on the preparedness and ongoing support of your onsite staff. Our national site operations and account management teams have researched and gained extensive experience for how to engage our staff throughout the various stages of site closures to reopening. Below are some of the key strategies we have put into practice and are sharing as useful advice.

1. Create a Fitness Staff Health & Safety Plan

Just like our members, it is reasonable to assume your staff may have fears and concerns with returning to work in a fitness center. We have talked extensively about guidelines for member and participant health and safety in our fitness centers, but what about the staff? Of course, the same social distancing, PPE, and hygiene practices we ask members to follow should also apply to the staff. There are a few unique considerations to keep in mind for staff vs. members.

Female Doctor Checking Temperature Using Infrared Thermometer,Tool for detect coronavirus or covid-19 .
  1. Establish what your staff’s health screening procedures should be for reporting to work. This may include self-reported temperature checks, exposure risk and symptom assessments, with guidelines on what to do/when to stay home if feeling ill.
  2. Develop a response and communication plan for possible exposure, including how to report exposure, clarify quarantine and stay-at-home protocols, along with contact tracing and notifications to those that may be affected.
  3. Ensure all screening and risk assessments reported by staff and/or members, as well as exposure notifications and contact tracing abide by HIPAA and ADA requirements.
  4. Provide PPE such as, masks, gloves, face shields, hand sanitizer, etc. in accordance with local laws. Train on how to use them properly in all types of job duties: desk and floor supervision, cleaning equipment, interacting with members during classes or training sessions.
  5. Maintain a process for monitoring PPE and cleaning supplies that includes requests for purchasing and refilling supplies as they begin to run low.
  6. Clearly define social distancing and traffic patterns for guiding members through the facility in such a way that there is no physical contact and ample space between staff and members.
  7. Prepare staff for the challenges they may face when asking a member or possibly another staff member, to comply with health and safety guidelines that may not agree with.
  8. For additional information, SHRM provides a comprehensive Back to Work Checklist that includes these considerations and more.

Clearly outlining these procedures and communicating with your staff well before you reopen demonstrates that you have their health and safety top of mind, just as you do the members. If managing a fitness facility for a property or organization, it is important to align your procedures with theirs to promote consistency and compliance for both staff and members or residents accessing the facility.

2. Update Internal Policies and Procedures

It is fair to say that COVID-19 has reshaped fitness center operational practices of the past. If you have not already, it is time to sunset the old hard-backed employee handbook and operations manual and convert to a digital format that can quickly be updated and distributed with changes. As we continue to navigate and adapt to the new normal, we continue to learn.

Old female mentor coach wearing face mask training young workers at group meeting in reopen office. Middle aged businesswoman teacher working with students at university class. Social distance concept

Policies and procedures will evolve throughout this process. Things like open/close procedures, equipment cleaning, member check-in, capacity limits, holding classes and personal training sessions must be revised. We covered a lot of these operational changes in our recent blog piece: Adjusting Fitness Operations in The New Normal. What staff specific policies and procedures should be updated?

  1. Review all leave and health/medical benefits and compensation policies to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws for exempt/non-exempt employees. Plan for increased absences among your staff.
  2. Check to see if you need to update labor law posters, OHSA and other workplace safety postings to align with new health and safety plans.
  3. Look over any existing technology standards and usage policies. Consider how these may need revised with your site and staff relying on technology and social media to conduct online fitness classes, training sessions, and promote programs.
  4. Your HR team should be well versed in what is required for the company to stay compliant with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic, Security Act (CARES). Refer to SHRM’s website for more details.

3. Train and Prepare Your Fitness Staff

With so many new protocols, processes, and systems in place, you will need to devote significant time and energy to training your staff prior to reopening. Before welcoming members back to your fitness center, consider bringing the staff back a few weeks early. Use that time to train them on the afore mentioned health and safety plan, as well as your updated policies, procedures, and operational adjustments, including:

Young couple is getting ready for outdoor workout with protective masks. Covid-19 responsible behavior.

1. Facility and equipment layout for social distancing. As outlined in our first article of this series, Social Distancing for Safe Social Fitnessing, involve the staff in the process of posting signs on floors and equipment identifying required space that should exist between individuals while in the facility. Present them with all the signage templates they might need and accessibility to modify, print and post. This will help gain staff buy-in and clarity of how the facility should be set up so if markings or signs get displaced, they can quickly correct it. Ensure they know how to maintain distance between one another while performing regular job duties as well.

2. Updated cleaning procedures. Take time to go through all the steps of your updated cleaning protocols, and then have your staff physically perform them as a check-step. If your fitness center is within a building or organization that has a third-party cleaning and maintenance crew, be sure to clarify roles for cleaning certain areas, like locker rooms, showers, and bathrooms. Revisit our article on Cleaning and Disinfecting your Corporate Fitness Facility for more insight.

3. Introduce new technology systems and close gaps. The COVID pandemic has created a technology boom for nearly all business sectors. The fitness industry has been a prime example of that. Fitness centers and gyms have had to quickly adapt to video conferencing platforms, apps for touchless check-ins and online reservations, as well as social media networks like Facebook Live and YouTube to host classes and training sessions. As you decide which technology platforms are ideal for your fitness operations, assess your staff accessibility to those platforms and their current knowledge base. Build in time for onboarding and training in those systems. Most of this can all start virtually before the staff returns to your site. Identify your early adopters and consider teaming them up with small groups needing more time and practice.

4. Member check-in and interactions. You may have had to change your member check-in procedure to a touchless process. Make sure the staff knows how to conduct this process and utilize the system to avoid any person-to-person contact. Set up some mock scenarios of how to safely interact with members should they approach the staff with questions, request assistance on a machine, need to check-out a small equipment item (ball, bands, etc.), or other common requests.

5. Group fitness classes and personal training sessions. For this training, be sure to include any part-time group exercise instructors and/or personal trainers that will be returning with reopening. It is imperative everyone is clear on policies for social distancing, wearing masks and using PPE, spacing during classes/sessions, no-contact instruction or training, and equipment cleaning pre/post sessions.

Two girls go in for sports online. Fitness classes in video calling. Protective masks against virus infection. Training during quarantine in the gym. A sports coach leads an online lesson.

6. Compliance and accountability. If these two words make you crinkle your nose a bit, you are not alone. Ensuring compliance with all updated policies is a must for Establishing Member Trust and Comfort During COVID. Plan that your staff will encounter difficult situations with members, or potentially other staff members, not wanting to comply with social distancing, mask wearing, and extra cleaning policies. For this reason, there should be training time devoted to conflict resolution, including messaging and enforcement guidelines for the staff to follow. Role playing exercises can be very useful when preparing your staff for these situations.

4. Maintain Consistent Communications & Support

Effective communication is king, or queen, when in a crisis. During COVID, business leaders in all industries agree that maintaining open channels for communication is vital for keeping staff engaged and prepared for reopening. Whether you are still in a closure situation, or starting to consider reopening plans, it is important you devise an effective communication strategy that provides consistency, clarity, and transparency with your staff.

Coronavirus covid-19 prevention, fitness girl with a medical mask posing in gym. Fighting viruses.

1. Be consistent. This applies to the frequency in how often certain groups meet, schedule in keeping to the same days/times, and methods for using the same channels and systems to avoid connectivity issues or confusion. From the first shutdowns, up-to and beyond our very first site reopening, our account management team maintained weekly communication calls with video chat and screen share functionality to ensure all staff involved in site operations are aware of local and national updates related to COVID response. It has also allowed us to efficiently roll out new virtual technologies, train our team on new policies and procedures, as well as share industry resources and proven solutions to help fellow teammates succeed. These frequent touch points also help build relationships within our staff, promoting healthy connections and support network.

2. Be clear and concise. Every staff meeting should start with an agenda. Discussion points, questions, and resource documents should be shared prior to with a clear plan on what each attendee should bring and contribute to the meeting. We have found this to be particularly useful when conducting staff training sessions, and for sharing best practices in virtual programs, as well as lessons learned from site that have reopened with sites that are still waiting to reopen.

3. Be honest and transparent. Communicating with your staff in an honest and genuine way will build trust and comfort in a time of chaos and fear. Unify and rally your staff around the ideas and practices that will help everyone succeed. Encourage new and different ideas and open communications. Allow those channels to stay open for fitness staff to express their concerns and questions.

4. Be flexible and supportive. It is important to remember that everyone is dealing with the COVID crisis in their own unique way. Some of your staff may be caring for high-risk family members, or they could be high-risk themselves. Some may have school age children dealing with hybrid schedules, and some may have kids without daycare. It is important they feel comfortable addressing these concerns with you, a direct supervisor, or HR department. Encourage use of internal wellbeing benefits and resources like EAP for more personal support.

While it feels like most reopening prep-work is focused on getting the facility, equipment, and members ready, assuring staff health and safety, providing necessary training, and support is a high priority. Being attentive to your staff needs and concerns before, during, and after reopening is crucial for success. They are your boots on the ground, gaining experience and lessons learned that will help strengthen your current and future operations. The future of fitness will look very different, we know that. Stay tuned for our final piece planned for this series: Virtual Necessity – The Future of Fitness.

As we work to navigate reopening for our clients and fitness centers that we manage, we have the knowledge and hands-on experience to develop your customized facility reopening plan. Click here to set up a time to initiate a reopening consult with our team of experts.