Working up a sweat at work sounds gross, but some start-ups are putting their office in the gym

Key Points
  • Companies and independent contractors are making fitness centers their office. The health clubs can be a great perk for employees as well as cut costs.
  • Equinox and Life Time have added co-working spaces after notice members working in their lobbies and on the sidewalk outside their facilities.
Here's why companies are making gyms their headquarters
Here's why companies are making gyms their headquarters

Class Act Sports is a digital media company that started out creating videos that highlight positive stories about athletes giving back to the community.

It's also got a very unusual workplace: It's based in a gym.

Specifically, its headquarters is in the New York location of Life Time, a high-end chain of fitness centers.

"When your gym is connected to your workspace everyone has this energy going," said Class Act Sports chief marketing officer "Moose" Haila.

"You never know who is coming in and who is going out, whether you're coming from a great work out or getting a great meal in an incredible atmosphere. Most We Work buildings are closed off and you have your own sections, kind of like high school. Life Time is open, and it forces you to interact."

A typical day's work involves getting a workout in early in the morning, having a quick meeting to discuss the day's agenda from the Life Time cafeteria area, and then jumping straight into calls poolside, in a conference room or in one of the lounge areas. There's often time to fit an evening class or play basketball before calling it a day.

Moose met Class Act Sports CEO Jared Ginsberg when he was touring the facility. He noticed Ginsberg lounging by the pool and and made a comment to his guide that he kind of looked like former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. The guide noted both of them had a similar idea of creating a company showcasing positive stories about athletes, and Moose asked for an introduction. Their ideas lined up, and Ginsberg brought Moose into his company.

"If it wasn't for Life Time's pool, we wouldn't be doing the things we are doing today," Moose said.

Life Time has been paying attention. After seeing its members working from the lobbies of their gyms before and after classes, it started adding conference rooms and other work areas a couple of years ago.

"One of our core tenets is helping people live significantly healthier lives," said Life Time Work president James O'Reilly. "Where better to pursue that end than to improve where people spend most of their time the office."

One of the spaces at Life Time Work in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Better than office kombucha

Americans are increasingly working outside the traditional office, and it's fueling a need for affordable workspace. At the same time, boutique workout classes and fashionable athleisure wear have made fitness very fashionable. So some companies are marrying the two ideas and hunkering down at the gym.

A Gallup survey of more than 15,000 adults found 43 percent of U.S. employees spent some time working remotely in 2016. As internet access becomes better and more widespread, that the figure will probably increase.

There's also a booming start-up industry that thrives in a collaborative, open environment. There were 415,216 startups in 2017 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 28 percent increase from a 30-year low in 2010. (The government defines a "start-up" as a company with at least one employee that's less than a year old.) The National Venture Capital Association reported U.S. venture capitalists invested $84 billion in 8,035 companies last year, the largest annual amount in a decade.

Start-ups often aren't able to provide perks that larger companies use to lure and retain employees, such as free cafeteria food, manicures and kombucha on tap. So being able to offer a luxury gym membership is a competitive bonus. Plus it can lead employees to have a healthier lifestyle.

"[The trend] kind of coincides with a high-performance individual that considers fitness an integral part of their life," said Equinox Fitness Clubs CEO Niki Leondakis. "There's an exponential amount of people thinking about work-life balance differently." After seeing sidewalks outside its locations crowded with members answering email, Equinox began to open co-working spaces in some of its upscale locations.

Working out of a fitness center can also cut costs for a new company or a freelancer. In pricey cities like San Francisco and New York, many small companies may not have funds to rent a full office space.

WeWork hot desks — where people don't have a dedicated workspace but are allowed to use the facility — start at $220 a month. For comparison, the office space in a gym often comes with the monthly health club fee. For instance, the New York Life Time charges $190 a month, while Equinox prices can start at $160 monthly depending on your city.

Filling empty spaces

The trend can also provide a new source of revenue for fitness studios during slack times of day.

Washington D.C.'s Flow Yoga Center realized its yoga studio was busy before and after work hours, but was empty most of the day. To capitalize on its free space, it turned into a co-working office during the day called Workflow. For $80 a month, workers could use a quiet plant-filled sunlit area with light music or a lively downstairs lounge with healthy snacks.

Part of the Workflow deal includes classes built into the workday. The program offered two short meditation classes as well as 45- minute express yoga class. Workers not only took advantage of the classes, but brought people in for "sweatworking" meetings, creating a healthier way to catch up without involving alcohol.

"[Workflow members] all valued this idea of working well as we call it," said Flow Yoga Center chief operating officer Ian Mishalove said. "You're not in the office grinding it out from 9 to 9. You start the day with meditation, take a mid-day break with a short yoga class. It will fuel you up to do your work in the most efficient way."

Some gyms stumbled into the work-workout balance almost by accident.

When Brooklyn Boulders opened its first location in Brooklyn in 2009, CEO Lance Pinn wasn't sure that rock climbing was going to be a hit. At the same time, it also had very bad cell phone service, so they installed Wi-Fi and charged people to use it to offset launch costs. Rock climbing took off, and companies began booking their facility for team-building exercises. But there was no place to work, so Brooklyn Boulders began adding desk space for people to use the internet.

Flash forward to today: He estimates that up to two out of five people working out of Brooklyn Boulders' locations are in the tech industry.

"Paperwork and computer work is not something we are adapted for evolutionarily," Brooklyn Boulders founder and CEO Lance Pinn said. "The goal is to get the mind and body functioning in the best way possible so you can continue to do great work."