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"Sweatworking" moves team building from the bar to the barre

A few weeks back, my colleague convinced me to conquer one of my biggest fears—SoulCycle. She assured me that she was no cycling expert herself and that we (and a group of coworkers) would be struggling through it together, so I caved. I hopped online and signed up for a ride with “Chris” on bike 64.

On Thursday afternoon we trekked six blocks to the San Francisco SOMA studio, talking about work projects, dinner plans, and how we hoped to make it through the intense workout. Our destination was impossible to miss—a bright yellow sign with four-foot letters contrasted brightly against the foggy summer sky. I snapped a picture of the storefront to prove my attendance and continued on inside.

After checking in and changing into sweat-appropriate attire (in personal changing rooms, I’ll add), we made our way into a dark room, packed wall-to-wall with stationary bikes. Before I could lock into the pedals, Rihanna’s latest began blaring from the speakers and Chris kicked off the class. While I was surrounded by people from the office, the dimmed lights helped assure me that my colleagues couldn’t see my every move or my beet red face. I survived the forty-five-minute class, but more importantly, my coworkers and I developed a shared interest, something to bond over. We signed up for more classes, we huffed and puffed less, and we grew closer.

The science of sweatworking

I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one working out with my workmates—teams across the company were planning sweaty offsites—often at the same studio. The concept of connecting with colleagues and clients over exercise is now so popular,

"People like working out with others because it gives them the chance to really interact,” says sports psychologist William Wiener, Ph.D., “it's more fun and beneficial that way.” While it may have a fresh face, this concept isn’t a new one. Just like a round of golf or a round of shots, sweatworking gives employees the opportunity to get to know each other outside the confines of the office. With society's current focus on health, sweatworking is a natural evolution of traditional networking activities. It burns more calories than golf and leads to less embarrassing mistakes than happy hour.

Sweatworking burns more calories than golf and leads to less embarrassing mistakes than happy hour.

Burning calories is just the beginning

For many of us, sitting for eight hours each day is part of our job description. All of this sitting brings on a slew of negative health consequences, most notably a higher rate of cardiovascular disease, an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, and a higher all-cause mortality rate. Thankfully, these negative effects can be offset with an hour of moderate exercise every day. If your team spends the majority of the day seated, sweatworking is an effective way to get everyone moving. Plus, committing to exercise with your colleagues keeps you motivated and accountable.

Learning something together in an atypical setting gives your group a chance to make goals and collectively improve on something that is not work-related. (It often changes up the competitive playing field.) Building teamwork and cooperation skills with a healthy sweat will enhance your professional interactions as well. Feeling supported by your peers outside the office will naturally translate to a stronger team at work.

Is your company on board?

When it comes to “sweatworking,” employers also have something to gain. Understandably, employees who exercise have better cardiovascular health, reduced weight, and get sick less often, which may mean reduced medical costs for companies. What’s more, employees who exercise regularly are happier in and out of the office. In fact, a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found that employers who offer wellness programs report a voluntary attrition rate six percent lower than organizations that do not have well-developed programs.

Many employers have recognized the company-wide benefits of fitness initiatives and have implemented programs to promote wellness at work—from subsidized gym memberships, to Fitbit step challenges, to onsite exercise classes. Today, health and fitness is becoming embedded in company cultures, and working out with fellow employees is common practice.

How to make the most of your sweat session

While it is becoming increasingly common, exercising with those you sit next to in meetings can be delicate territory. To ensure that you reap the benefits of “sweatworking” without any embarrassing mishaps, keep the following in mind:

  1. Invite the whole team. Because sweatworking builds immediacy among participants, those who don’t join in can feel isolated. While going to a barre class with the same group of colleagues every week may seem harmless, it can quickly form an office clique. Before booking a class, post the reservation link on a public platform (like Slack or a shared Google doc) for everyone to see. If you notice that the same four people are going to class each week, reach out to others individually. Most people are willing to try something new, all they need is a little push.

  2. Mind your attire. Of course, wear something that you are comfortable moving in, but think of the class as an extension of the office. If you wouldn’t want your coworkers to see your midriff at work, adopt a similar attitude to your athletic wear.

  3. Try a new class. Members of your team may stand at different levels professionally, but attempting a fitness class that is foreign to everyone can act as an equalizer. This gives the entire team something to learn together—you can bond over your shared triumphs and struggles.

  4. Make it non-competitive. In exercise, it is important to push yourself, to constantly improve, but remember the purpose of taking the class. “Sweatworking” is about building better teams and sharing an experience, Being hypercompetitive can take away from the team building benefits group exercise has to offer. Approach the class with the intention of being a team player—you can go for gold on your next solo run instead.

Being hypercompetitive can take away from the team building benefits group exercise has to offer. Approach the class with the intention of being a team player—you can go for gold on your next solo run instead.

Whether you’re welcoming a new employee or need a change of pace from your everyday office routine, “sweatworking” builds teams, fast. Want to see what the hype is about? Next Thursday night, consider swapping out the bar for a barre class—you’ll feel better Friday morning, I promise.

Our Millennial view series is not just for Millennials. Everyone can gain insight on these important workplace and life issues. Topics such as Finding a friend in feedback, Moving up, while dressing down, and When giving two week's notice is complicated impact us all, regardless of generation.

Sara Lighthall is a content marketing intern at Zendesk and a student of life. When she’s not demystifying the Millennial generation on Relate, you can find her with her toes in the sand and a latte in her hand. See what she’s up to on Twitter: @saralighthall.