As a workplace health and wellness consulting firm, Onlife Health decided to practice what it preaches when the company moved into new offices last fall. Its lease was coming to an end and while its old offices were adequate, the company decided to go to market to see what was available.
"Being a health and wellness company we really needed to live what we preach," says William Seibels, Onlife Health's senior vice president and chief of staff. "Our prior space didn't really allow us to do that. One of the key tenets that was in mind when we searched was to find a space that could be designed to reflect our mission of positive living."
Prior to the move, the company surveyed its employees to find out what they didn't like about the old space and what they'd like to see in a new office. "One of the pieces of feedback we received on our old space was that we talk a lot about health coaching services and wellness consulting and yet our own space doesn't reflect this," says Seibels. "So I think employees saw this as a reinforcement of our culture and our vision."
The new space, in Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville, was designed to with natural walking tracks on each floor - wide hallways that make loops around the offices - to encourage employees to get exercise. Markers on the hallway track tell wakers how far they've traveled. There's a corporate fitness center with cardio equipment and weight room, and the fitness center also includes a group fitness room where classes such as yoga and tai chi are offered.
Video panels throughout the new offices stream healthy living messages while new vending machines, approved by Onlife's own dieticians, offer healthy food choices. The refrigerators in the lunch room have glass doors so employees can see what others have brought for lunch. "It's a positive reinforcement for eating healthy and bringing healthy food into the office," says Seibels.
Employee feedback has been positive, and Seibels believes it's good for business, too.
"When we bring in prospective customers, they see we're not just trying to sell something; we live it as well," he says.
Seibels acknowledges the investment in the move and redesign was significant, but "even though it did cost a reasonable amount of money to build out, when we started planning this we were able to build this into our build-out allowance," he says. "We took advantage of the market rates that are going on in the real estate market here, and we didn't increase our costs on an ongoing basis at all."
Still, for employers who don't have the means or the opportunity to move into a completely redesigned new space, Seibels has the following advice: "Understand the amount of money you want to set aside for wellness. Really talk and listen to your employees about what they want from a wellness-focused workspace and find out what motivates them."
Also, start early. Too many employers, he says, approach wellness as an afterthought.
"If you start upfront and you have an understanding of what your budget is and what your employees want, you can build it into the broader space design and not be constrained as much as if you leave it to the last minute."
Assessing the quality of food in vending machines is a relatively easy and inexpensive place to start, says Seibels.
When conducting workplace assessments, "I might start off with whether there are healthy food options, and the simplest way to do that is with the vending machines," says Dr. Joel Bender, global medical director with U.S. Preventive Medicine, a wellness and care management organization based in Jacksonville, Fla. "It's not that difficult to put healthy foods in vending machines."
Educating employees about healthy habits and ergonomics is also a relatively inexpensive thing to do, according to John Michael, vice president and general manager for Staples Advantage's furniture and interior design business, Business Interiors by Staples. "We can provide things like ergonomic seating and wrist rests for keyboard trays and glare screens for computer screens, but if we haven't taken the time to show people the most ergonomically appropriate way to sit, all those things can be hollow investments," he says.
"Space is one thing but it's also about incorporating healthy practices into your way of work," says Seibels, noting that Onlife recently held an off-site, half-day dodgeball tournament. "Little things that reinforce healthy living and having fun go a long way with employees and they don't cost a whole lot of money to do."
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