The DBS Bank India office in Mumbai has cycles so that employees can be active while sitting at their desk for hours; (below) Tarunpal Singh, senior designer at Droom.in, exercising in his Gurgaon office.
The DBS Bank India office in Mumbai has cycles so that employees can be active while sitting at their desk for hours; (below) Tarunpal Singh, senior designer at Droom.in, exercising in his Gurgaon office.

Why some offices are putting cycles at desks

  • Companies are redoing conventional office spaces to add fitness to the work schedule
  • Active employees tend to be more productive as exercise increases blood flow to the brain, making them energetic and alert

Working out on weekdays is hard for most professionals, and Garima Mishra was no different. The human resources head of rewards at Development Bank of Singapore Ltd found it difficult to hit the gym on working days—until her workplace gave her a cycle workstation. Cycling as she sends out emails and works on presentations helps her get the job and her daily exercise done. “The cycle workstation is a good way to keep myself active despite spending hours at the desk," she says. DBS Bank India’s new offices in Mumbai and Delhi help staff balance work with health.

The multinational bank isn’t the only one redesigning conventional office spaces to integrate fitness into the employee’s work schedule. Corporates and startups are trying to provide fitness and wellness opportunities in the office to increase employee engagement and enhance productivity.

A number of them are redesigning office spaces to include gyms, yoga and meditation rooms, or standing desks or recreation areas. Studies show that workplace wellness helps boost employee engagement by strengthening relationships and morale, promoting healthier behaviours, improving mental well-being and reducing stress.

At CDK Global India Pvt. Ltd, a provider of integrated IT and digital marketing solutions to the automotive retail industry, wellness is now integral to work. The company did not plan a fitness centre when it built its office, but about a year ago, based on employee feedback, it redesigned the cafeteria in Pune and the recreation area in Hyderabad to include fitness centres.

“These spaces are very popular with employees. We have partnered with Wellness Associates to manage our fitness centres," says Romeet Kaul, associate vice-president, global real estate, CDK Global India.

The Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report, released last year, says most people want to work in a healthy environment. It says 87% of workers would like their employer to offer company fitness benefits, sit-stand working stations and wellness rooms. About 93% of respondents from the tech industry said they would stay on at a company that offered such benefits.

RETHINKING DESIGN

Kishore Poduri, country head, human resources, DBS Bank India, says the millennial employee’s focus on fitness is responsible for a rethink in office design. “Young employees look beyond core work. They understand the importance of work-life integration, and give utmost importance to fitness. Their priorities and expectations from the workplace are different from older generations," he says.

DBS Bank India has redesigned its spaces to be more “agile, open and futuristic with zones for employees to take care of their personal needs and fitness". The bank also has health talks and camps for check-ups, and an online portal for employees to learn more about healthy living. “The focus is on encouraging fitness, rather than prescriptive action to tackle disease," says Poduri.

With multiple surveys finding that over 90% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, employers see the importance of investing in a positive employee experience to attract and retain top talent.

Christopher Goggin, an award-winning workplace designer with US consulting firm Gensler, in a blog post writes: “The workplace of the future is more about ‘how’ we work, bringing people together to collaborate, innovate, learn and socialize." He says office spaces need to be supplemented with fitness centres and cafeterias that integrate health and well-being.

At Droom.in, an online automobile marketplace, founder Sandeep Aggarwal says professionals spend most of the day at their workplaces, and so the transition of conventional offices into fitness-oriented spaces was a long time coming.

“Such spaces offer employees the convenience of improving their fitness while doing professional tasks. Most significantly, they enhance individual employee productivity and efficiency, which is why enterprises are actively promoting the trend," he says. “The modern workforce is concerned about fitness levels, which influences everything from what they eat to how they work."

Droom.in offers its employees a state-of-the-art gym, which has a kick-boxing ring. The company organizes yoga, zumba and stretch sessions with professional instructors. “We recently released a guide to stretching for the neck, arms, shoulders, hamstrings, and back, a must for every person who spends hours at a desk," says Aggarwal, and adds that the millennial employee’s focus on fitness is “undoubtedly one of the most significant reasons behind this".

Tarunpal Singh, a senior designer at Droom.in Design Studio, who uses the gym and table tennis room regularly, says, “Working out keeps me motivated. Exercise is the best way to keep your focus alive when you are sitting at a desk all day."

A 2018 study by Swiss investment bank UBS showed that the average employee in Mumbai works 3,315 hours a year, or 63.75 hours a week—the highest in the world. Employees in other cities may not work as much, but clock between 45 hours and 55 hours a week. With so much time spent in the office, it’s important that organizations focus on well-being. According to the Well Building Standard, the premier standard for buildings, spaces for wellness and fitness are one of the seven concepts of building performance (the other six are air, water, nourishment, light, comfort and mind).

Architect Sonali Lele Desai, co-founder of design consultancy stARCH Design Spectrum, agrees that fitness is extremely important to today’s employees and that designers need to take note of the trend.

“Our bodies were made to move, not sit all day. Studies have shown that employees who are active tend to be more productive. This is because exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, making them energetic and alert, and enhancing their concentration and decision-making skills," she says.

TIME FOR BREAKS

However, Desai says that fitness should be made a part of the office-goer’s lifestyle. “Instead of cycling workstations or similar initiatives that divide a person’s mind into work and exercise, we need to provide facilities that encourage them to exercise when taking a break and not try to multi-task," she says.

“Initiatives such as a well-equipped room, a space for yoga and meditation, or regular fitness-oriented classes through the working week help make fitness a part of the day. That’s what we should be aiming at," adds Desai.

Employers in all fields are finding ways to promote physical activity. Ketan Kapoor, CEO of Mercer-Mettl, a talent assessment firm, agrees that fitness plays a vital role in managing employees overall well-being.

“Youth are passionate about fitness, which has led to a shift towards fitness-oriented spaces," he says. Mercer-Mettl has signed up with professional trainers and organizes fitness sessions thrice a week. For mental health, the firm conducts meditation sessions once a week, again managed by professionals.

“If a person is physically and mentally fit, s/he will be able to contribute maximum towards the organization’s goals," says Kapoor, who joins as many sessions as he can.

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