Better workplace relationships through ‘sweatworking,’ not networking

 (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-321184157/stock-photo-multiracial-group-after-aerobics-class.html'>Gym buddies</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

(Gym buddies image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

Where do you find yourself bonding best with work colleagues? Coffee in the break room, lunch in the park, corporate dinners? How about the gym, Pilates class, or yoga flow?

Turns out it’s a jawn. More and more people are ditching the old networking hubs of early-morning tee times and martini-heavy lunches for something healthier and — for the most part — more accessible: the nearby workout studio or classes. And it’s happening in ways that are more integrated with individual workplaces than I’d imagined.

For instance, if you want to support and bond with your team at work, having a tailored workout time together, adapted to the span of ages and abilities of the team, can be a powerful experience. Tom Wingert, marketing director of City Fitness Philly, explains how his company uses fitness to help enhance team relationships of a business or not-for-profit that comes to them.

“People don’t necessarily take advantage of the benefits when it’s offered [as general gym membership as part of an HR package],” he says. “When we do corporate outreach, we like to tailor our offering to that company. We offer an in-house boot camp to a department so they can figure out what works best for them and build a community within their organization.”

I paused to picture the staff of Christ Church Philadelphia in a gym together, shuddered, and attempted to return to our chat.

Did people still use the fitness studio to meet up with colleagues, one on one? Yes, Wingert says, and the workout space — whether cardio, training, barre, or yoga — can enhance those personal business relationships precisely because of the vulnerability of our human bodies in those places.

“When people work out together, they need people,” he says. “Whether they’re pushing themselves or trying something new, they’re at a vulnerable spot. So spontaneous interactions and conversations — like ‘Wow, that was hard’ — can start relationships or take them further. This is another opportunity for people to make an intentional business connection, another venue for business people to meet and connect.”

This strickes me as a good way to develop the workplace friendships that, at least according to recent studies, enhance your productivity and satisfaction but, for Americans, have too often been segregated from their business selves. And of course, there’s the basic bennie of caring for your personal health at the same time as getting some networking done, without sacrificing one for the other.

Stewart Friedman, professor of management and director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, agrees that sweatworking can offer a two-for-one. “For over 15 years now in my teaching Total Leadership both to students and business professionals in a wide variety of settings, participants undertake experiments designed to improve their performance at work, at home, in the community, and for themselves personally,” he says. “They do this by better integrating the different parts of their lives. One of the more popular kinds of experiments that people have done over the years is just what you are describing here [in sweatworking]. Taking care of themselves, but exercising, and doing so in a way that connects them with both coworkers and friends. When it works well, the results are not just better health outcomes, but better relationships.”

Cautions?

Be aware of personal boundaries, especially with colleagues whom you don’t well yet or who may lean too much on the personal side of the bond.
The gym probably isn’t the best space for work conversations that need more focus or privacy.
Stay mindful of workout time that you need for lapsing into your own thoughts or soundtrack.

So with that in mind, keep some workout time and space for yourself – and invite a colleague to your next session with your trainer.

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