At Sodexo, building exercise into weekly conference calls

Company: Sodexo.

Location: Gaithersburg.

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Employees: 4,552 locally; 413,000 globally.

When members of Sodexo’s recruiting team dial in to their weekly conference call, they don’t get down to business right away.

Instead, the first item on the agenda is to go through a series of stretches and strength training exercises led by a staffer who is also a certified fitness instructor.

Via Web camera, Rita Sanders guides her colleagues through a five- to seven-minute workout that they can do at their desks without any fitness equipment.

“I try to think of all the body parts that pain people who are somewhat sedentary,” Sanders said.

With that goal in mind, she offers short routines that help straighten the spine, strengthen abdominal muscles and relieve tension in the wrists and neck.

The tradition was born when a group of staffers decided that the 88-person team, all of whom work from home offices, needed a jolt to their mostly inactive workdays.

Arie Ball, vice president for sourcing and talent acquisition at the Gaithersburg-based food services giant, said she put on weight when she began telecommuting. In previous jobs, she’d built walking into her day as she moved to and from the parking lot, to meetings and to the cafeteria.

“When you work from a home office, that doesn’t occur,” Ball said. “Plus, the refrigerator is really close. It’s a problem.”

Sanders said she also gives the group tips for incorporating more physical activity throughout the day. She suggests that they make an effort to engage their muscles more deeply, even when they open a drawer or reach for a pencil.

“Don’t just let it flip and flop around,” Sanders advises.

The group workouts aren’t the only effort the team is making to integrate activity into the day. They have also recently acquired Fitbits, devices that help track how many steps the user has taken each day and how many calories the user has burned. They use the data from the Fitbits to give out prizes to top performers.

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