When the pharmaceutical company Amgen began offering virtual classes and resources to help people lose weight and increase their fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic, it learned that it was able to expand the reach of these benefits. While local fitness programs were offered to U.S. employees, virtualization made these programs available to non-U.S. employees for the first time.

“We recognized that the staff didn’t get to move around on a daily basis [working from home]So we started offering virtual five-minute fitness challenges and interval breaks, ”said Amanda McComb, a senior executive at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California.

Amgen’s children’s fitness program also had a wider reach, as it was no longer limited to the children of staff who went to the local nursery.

“We also added virtual programs for kids, like yoga classes for kids, to improve motor skills and balance and stretching,” so they could get movement at home in distance learning, he said.

In the summer of 2021, Amgen plans to roll out an enhanced virtual summer physical program for working children.

As a result of a much larger population, Amgen’s virtual weight loss and fitness programs experienced significant growth compared to pre-protected pandemic classes in use.

Keeps the momentum

It is relatively easy for people to lose weight and use fitness programs when they are confined to their home for a long time. The challenge behind the pandemic is to maintain interest and participation, while at the same time adapting to the changing needs of staff and children who can return to work in person and return to school.

To this end, employers can emphasize the private nature of these classes. “Technology-based virtual solutions are available to all employees, not just those who go to the gym and exercise in front of other people,” said Jason Von Bank, Wellbeats, president and CEO of St. Louis Virtual Fitness Company. Park, Minn. “In situ and virtual classes complement each other when companies reopen.”

Since most employees continue with remote or hybrid work arrangements, Amgen plans to continue with the virtual programs developed by Wellbeats, even as it reopens its gym. The company wants to ensure people have access to virtual well-being wherever they work. “Virtual programs are here to stay,” McComb said. “The goal is to provide more opportunities for employees to participate in welfare programs.”

It’s easy to go to classes easily. Amgen offers monthly scheduling of all available classes and its welfare platform allows employees to register for virtual classes online, which automatically adds the event to the employee’s calendar. The company gives employees points for participating in welfare programs and then offers a discount on health coverage to employees who earn a certain number of points.

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Home solutions

With 25,000 employees working in 198 areas, Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Virginia, needed a new approach to its welfare program when it moved to distance education and study in the pandemic.

“We had to make a quick pivot because people really needed welfare support,” said employee welfare manager Camille Bartus. “Because staff were isolated and stressed, we looked for ways to offer more.”

The result was a home-based solution, starting with virtual fitness classes posted online by a local hospital. From there, Bartus was able to add other virtual programs that cover topics such as care and nutrition, complete with webinars offered by health care providers in the district.

“This allows employees to choose a program for how long they have (five, 10 or 20 minutes) and when they have it: after work, at lunch, when the kids are around,” Bartus said. If the sessions are available at any time, staff can encourage their families to participate in the activities, he noted.

The depth of the content is also important. With about 800 options, school district staff can take classes to improve nutrition, prepare healthy meals and increase fitness.

“This gives you enough flexibility to pick what employees need,” instead of exercising at a specific time of day, Bartus said.

Measuring success

By controlling specific metrics, employers can see how effective their virtual programs are. For example, Bartus examines how many employees enroll in a particular class and then how many follow and take that class. The most popular classes can become the structure of a program that is relevant and motivating to employees.

It also examines the most popular times to take classes to ensure the right opportunities during these time periods.

Amgen McComb also said the company will monitor the use of its welfare programs by changing the schedule of popular classes to meet demand and replacing programs that do not generate much interest.

McComb conducts quarterly analysis of the program to see usage trends. If interest and usage decrease, you can adjust an email to promote the program to employees.

Any virtual wellness offer will attract initially motivated employees. To catch less motivated people, employers can test different messages through different communication channels. Requiring employees who have benefited from classes to become champions to communicate with their classmates about the program may also arouse interest.

Employers should rely on supervisors and group meetings to convey the message to employees who do not use a computer or the Internet in their work. Messaging and scheduling may also need to be changed to allow employees to be based on different locations or work schedules.

Variety is also important, and the virtual nature of these programs is an asset in this endeavor. For example, “it’s easy to add new classes to see if they’re interested,” Bartus said.

Neither Amgen nor Fairfax County Public Schools has any plans to discontinue their virtual programs when staff return to work. Given the greater reach and cost-effectiveness of this approach, “we should be virtual all the time,” McComb said.

Joanne Sammer He is a New Jersey business and finance writer.

[Related SHRM article:
Post-Pandemic, Should Employers Still Subsidize Fitness at Home?]