Virtual Necessity: Preparing for the Future in Fitness
Part six of CFW's Great Corporate Fitness Reboot blog series.
Written by: Elisa Denning, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications
As recently reported by all major media outlets, COVID cases are surging across the nation. For many businesses and organizations, this is creating hesitation for reopening. Even though global data and research studies show transmission of COVID-19 is rare in gyms and fitness centers per the social distancing, capacity limits and cleaning protocols in place, some health officials have flagged going to the gym as a moderate to high risk activity. That risk label, along with the sharp rise in cases, is forcing more restrictions on fitness facilities, some even required to re-close.
What does this mean for the corporate health and fitness industry? It means virtual is here to stay and onsite fitness providers must embrace and evolve with it.
Building from Pivotal Experience
Both corporate and commercial fitness centers have been working in the virtual lane for a while now. The initial closures back in March and April of 2020 forced us to pivot quickly from onsite and in-person services to exlusively online, digital interactions. Navigating this quick pivot meant relying on technologies that our onsite staff and members had instant access to, like social media, current apps, email/text communications, and free web conferencing tools. This varied across our different management sites and allowed us to experiment in real time how different technology platforms and delivery methods worked. Throughout this process we learned a great deal about which platforms were best for engaging remote working populations, shaping our virtual and hybrid management models moving forward.
Virtual Fitness Solutions for Corporate
Fitness centers and their member populations are unique in their own respect. So, it is no surprise that each will find their own unique blend of services to adapt to virtual. By and large, clients and members of our corporate fitness sites continue to value personal health and wellbeing during the pandemic and want to maintain accessibility and participation in these benefits. Some even more now, given the physical and mental health challenges while having to stay remote and isolated.
Through our experiences, we have identified five key elements for a successful virtual corporate fitness offering:
1. On-Demand and Live Group Exercise
A strong virtual offering should include both on-demand and live streaming group fitness classes. For effective on-demand offerings, you need an extensive library of different workout formats (cardio, strength, mind/body) that members can quickly access anytime and anywhere.
Consider equipment limitations for members at home, as well as legal requirements like music licenses, liability, assumption of risk, etc. Live classes simulate that community feel a participant gets while taking an in-person class even when at home. This is particularly important as the pandemic has left many people feeling isolated without person-to-person interaction they would normally get by going to work and to the gym.
While open platforms like YouTube are a quick and convenient method for member access, they do come with some privacy and security concerns and may devalue your offering. To create a premium member experience, we offer our clients and their employees a private platform called CFW Fit Streaming, where members have secure account access via their desktop, mobile app, or personal streaming device. This allows us to maintain a sizable library with categories and filter capabilities, as well as host live stream sessions all in one place. It offers convenience and elevates the virtual member experience.
2. Online Personal Training Sessions
As more people are connecting with co-workers and loved ones on web conferencing platforms like Zoom, Teams and WebEx, they are also getting used to meeting up and exercising with their fitness trainer online. This is service element is vital for human interaction, a piece that is often missing among all-digital fitness providers. As noted in this NASM article, there are many technical and operational considerations for taking personal training services online. Be sure to clarify the setup requirements for trainers and for members so that they can safely and effectively participate in the session. Adjust your pricing to reflect the remote training trends within the industry and your local market. By having a designated app for booking and purchasing sessions, with chat and push notifications for sharing workouts and reminders, we have found engagement in our online personal training to remain strong throughout the pandemic. There has even been uptick as we have entered fall weather months.
3. Virtual Health and Fitness Coaching
Real life, person-to-person relationships between our staff and members are often what sets our onsite corporate fitness programs apart from all-digital platforms. Statistics show American’s are feeling significantly more stressed, anxious, and depressed due to COVID as well as economic and social issues from which the nation is suffering.
Delivered through private, secure video conferencing channels with email and chat support, we anticipate health and fitness coaching participation will increase as corporate programs cater to remote employees. Beyond online personal training and group exercise classes, this opens another channel for employees to connect with a qualified and trained professional to discuss their health and fitness concerns, set goals. and initiate an action plan, and regular check-ins for steady human interaction.
4. Interactive Health Education
The keyword here is interactive. Simply providing a link to a health education article for your employees to read is not going to cut it in this new virtual landscape. We have found that by adapting static health education materials into interactive webinars with polls, quizzes, and live demonstrations by our staff, we have far better engagement in member health education and outreach. Thanks to advancements in technology platforms, we can integrate these educational components with a health challenge, special event, or make them part of stretch and relax break to draw more people into the program and keep them active after.
5. Virtual Community and Workplace Health Challenges
We hear it time and again from our staff and members; people miss the sense of community they got from physically going to work and exercising in the onsite fitness center. In IHRSA’s COVID Era Consumer Report, 95% of gym goers reported missing at least some aspect of physically going to the gym. Further analyzed, 42% miss working out with other people, 36% miss the sense of community that comes with exercising in the gym, and 26% miss having others cheer them on during the workout. One of the best ways to build back-in that sense of community in a virtual offering is through online challenges that have web-based activity logging and/or wearable fitness trackers for motivation and accountability.
We have found particular success with 4-6 week activity challenges focused on culminating exercise minutes, virtual 5k events, and shorter 1-week events like our recent ‘fit fest’ that combined exercise sessions with healthy cooking demos, interactive trivia and family game night. Having employees’ team up together and involving employee family members builds onto that sense of community and support that so many are missing right now
Technology that Ties it All Together
The anchoring point for all these virtual fitness elements to work is technology. In the corporate health and fitness sector, the platform needs to be highly secure, compliant with HIPPA, PHI, PPI, and meet strict corporate IT protocols. It also needs to be sophisticated enough to host the above services and support interactive engagement and communications. It is a tall order, but doable. The ideal is to have seamless integration through a single-sign-on technology platform that makes all your virtual services accessible through one web portal with an app experience. This creates a win-win-win situation, making things simpler for the corporation to implement, for the fitness staff to communicate and support, and ultimately for the member to log-in and participate.
The Future of Onsite Fitness is Hybrid
While no one knows for certain what the future may hold, what we do know is COVID has changed the way we operate in the fitness industry forever. This Club Industry article sums up the next 5 years in fitness predicting hybrid onsite/virtual service models will be the new norm. This is based on factors including varying degrees of individual readiness to return to the gym, timing for mass distribution of a vaccine, as well as members getting used to the convenience and accessibility benefits that virtual fitness delivers. Additionally, it is expected that the digital fitness boom and expanding at-home gyms will lead to more people being interested in fitness overall, eventually turning to onsite fitness centers for the irreplicable human connections to complement their digital and home workout experiences.
Onsite fitness providers should be planning now for how to structure staffing and deploy technology to support a virtual hybrid model long-term. As fitness centers continue to operate with restrictions and capacity limits, onsite services may be reduced enough that your regular staff can support virtual services, like recording on-demand workouts, training clients, leading live sessions, etc. during their off hours.
Once restrictions are lifted and reopening resumes, this will shift and require dedicated virtual fitness positions to conduct online classes, deliver health coaching and other virtual programming.
The Right Partnership Makes it Possible
An effective virtual and/or hybrid service model with strong technology and human focused delivery is how corporate onsite fitness programs will thrive in this new normal. There are boundless options and alternatives to consider when customizing your approach. Having the right fitness management partner with experience and technical capabilities to administer your virtual program is a must. Through extensive research, development, and implementation, we have identified virtual solutions and technology platforms that seamlessly integrate to meet the needs of working populations. Contact us to set up a discovery call to learn more about our virtual solutions.