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From the Desk of Dino Baskovic

Keeping remote teams in top physical (and digital) shape for 2016

If you manage virtual teams, or are yourself a remote worker, then by now you should have a pretty good idea of what it takes to keep your team in optimal shape. Regular communication, unified objectives and more all go into a winning team strategy. But have you considered overall team health—not just in business terms, but actual physical condition?

Sure, numerous studies correlate a person’s health with better overall contribution to the bottom line in terms of attendance, alertness and productivity levels. And while it can be easier to keep yourself or to encourage your team to stay in shape when workout facilities are onsite amenities, remote workforces are often left to their own devices. So, how best to motivate the mobile workforce of today?

Let’s start by looking at the calendar. January is the traditional time for us all to take stock in ourselves, as well as to set goals and resolutions for the “New Year, New You!” A focus on employee health is nothing new, yet with the advent of “wearables” and improved fitness apps for smartphones, this month is the perfect time to devise ways to incentivize remote workers to stay in shape.

Keeping fit, bit by measurable bit

Coming off the holiday gift-giving season, one or more of your fellow colleagues may be the proud owner of a shiny new Fitbit, or perhaps an upgraded iPhone. Maybe you’re one of them, choosing which apps to install—many of which can readily track your heart rate and miles walked. Here are three ways your team and you can stay in shape in the digital age:

  1. Step Challenges: Commit your entire team to walking or running a combined distance or step count per week. For example, if you have a remote team of 10, challenge each person to walk or run the equivalent of at least two miles per day, or 10 miles per week (“Get your 10’s in!”). Alternately, you can have each team member walk or run 10,000 steps per day. While not everybody on your team will own a wearable, there are any number of free smartphone apps that, combined with GPS, can accurately estimate distance or steps. (A standard $10-$20 pedometer will do the trick, as well.)Step challenges are a great way to encourage people to leave their desks for brief cardio bursts. For home-based workers, this also provides good incentive to get out of the house and onto parks trail or even just sidewalks. Treadmills or jogging in place can be suitable indoor substitutes, as are indoor tracks at area health clubs and gyms.
  2. Calorie Countdowns: Over the years, the concept of burning calories remains a key metric in measuring exercise output. Luckily, smart watches and health apps typically estimate caloric burn both during and at the end of a workout. Similar to the above suggested Step Challenge, devise weekly or monthly contests to track total number of individual and combined-team calories burned. This enables each worker to identify and choose the exercise routine best suited for them, while still working together as a team to meet a common goal.(An alternative to burning calories can be to stay within suggested daily caloric intake levels, as a maintenance measure.)
  3. Sleep Counters: Yes, sleep! A growing number of studies show that sleep deprivation or casual “undersleep” contributes to poor health and, consequently, poor work performance. To keep teams producing at peak energy levels, challenge each other to sleep an average of seven hours per night, currently the suggested adult average. As with distance and calories, newer wearables and fitness apps can track hours slept, even quality of sleep.

Any of the above three challenge ideas can be coupled with incentive prizes or benefits, ranging from certificates and t-shirts to additional PTO, management permitting. The ideas are endless!

As always, employees should consult with medical and fitness professionals prior to the start of any exercise regimen. Also, be sure to follow any existing corporate health and wellness policies. While some employee fitness challenges may be simpler for onsite workers to follow, offsite employees and frequent travelers can benefit from “mobile-friendly” health programs such as those presented in this article. Especially for those managers and members of virtual teams, a little electronic tough love can go a long way in keeping a remote workforce healthy, sharp and focused.