Meet the D.C. office building that exercises together (thanks to a collective employee wellness program)


Infinity Wellness president Lance Breger helps employees at 2021 L St. NW relax. (Vicky Hallett/Express)

There’s something in the air over at 2021 L St. NW: peppermint oil. On the 10th floor of the office building, a dozen people are dabbing it on their wrists to prepare for the stretch and tone class that takes over this conference room every Thursday. Tonight, the group will learn to massage themselves with tennis balls, feel their legs burn as they hold deep squats, and practice releasing tension as they lie flat on their backs with their eyes closed.

But the most important lesson for the participants — who are employees of the four companies that share the building — is that they can all do it together. The companies split the services of Infinity Wellness, a local firm that teaches fitness, nutrition, mind-body techniques and ergonomics.

The relationship started four years ago with the American Society of Hematology, which owns the building. When that organization contracted with Infinity Wellness, they began to hold classes on the top floor, in a conference space all of the building’s tenants use.

“People would walk by and see us laughing,” says Lance Breger, president of Infinity Wellness. It didn’t take long for interest to grow at the other three companies, but not everyone was ready to fund a separate wellness program. So Breger proposed a buildingwide program.

This joint setup isn’t just more affordable, says Nicole Horst, human resources director for accounting firm Tate & Tryon. It’s also led to other perks: “It gives us a chance to get to know each other and other employees in the building.” Plus, the larger classes make the sessions extra energetic.


Classes can take advantage of the building’s assortment of fitness equipment. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

For AtSite, a company whose mission is helping buildings perform better, this experiment seems particularly appropriate. AtSite isn’t just a tenant at 2021 L St. — it also manages the space, including the flexible conference area that’s worked so well for the group classes.

But even just a shared lobby can serve as a focal point for a buildingwide initiative, says AtSite senior associate Janae Holloway. For a step challenge last year, Breger updated the results on a large poster that sat next to the elevator. People would look at their team’s numbers and then head for the stairs, Holloway says.

Beyond the group classes, each company chooses which specific services it wants, adds Kathleen Callaghy, program and operations coordinator for Clasp. The environmental nonprofit has tacked on monthly wellness seminars and routine healthy snack deliveries.

These are the kinds of initiatives that Clasp executives had talked about for a while, Callaghy says. With Infinity Wellness in the building regularly, “it gave us a kick to do it,” she says.

The American Society of Hematology prides itself on being a leader in wellness, says Matthew Gertzog, deputy executive director. So this year’s new option for employees is one-on-one coaching. Every quarter, everyone on staff is invited (but not forced) to meet with Breger to discuss health goals.

“We have no interest in which goals are being set, just that a goal is set,” Gertzog says. As long as folks keep these appointments, they pay lower insurance premiums.

The deal is a win-win, says Gertzog, who reveals his current intention is to stock his apartment with healthy food. Knowing he’ll be discussing his progress with Breger in a few weeks is keeping him on track.

It’s only a matter of time until coaching is a widespread practice, he predicts. And, chances are, it’ll come even sooner to the rest of their building.

Small Wonders

What about wellness for really small companies, like startups with one or two employees? To calm the stressed-out entrepreneurs at WeWork’s Chinatown location, the business incubator recently had Lance Breger start a weekly meditation class. The ritual of sinking to the floor and focusing on nothing but her breathing lets Kristen Jones, 43, reboot. “We usually can’t shut down our brains,” she says.

In an office just upstairs from the meditation room, loop88 CEO Dave Weinberg has been taking part in more active breaks. Co-founder Ariel Remer, who’s based in Toronto, sends out messages every hour reminding Weinberg and their other employees around the globe to stop staring at their computers and do something. (Remer’s recommended routine is one minute of plank, 10 pushups and 10 squats.) The prompts sometimes go ignored, but they’ve created a cohesive culture at the company, Weinberg says. And they’ve strengthened his abs, he adds.

Walking the Walk

More than 200 organizations are participating in National Employee Wellness Month (nationalemployeewellnessmonth.com) this June, including many in the D.C. area. George Mason University, a first-time celebrant, is touting several initiatives in honor of the observance. One program the school is particularly excited about: Walking Wednesdays. “We’d done them before, but we wanted more people to be involved and create a more sustainable event,” says GMU’s Linda Harber. Instead of having one leader tell people where to go on the 30-minute strolls each week, anyone on campus can take a turn being in charge. Two vice presidents have already signed up.

 

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Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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