Practicing what you preach can be a challenge, especially when it comes to finding the elusive work/life balance. As the Vice President of Talent Development for Retrofit Weight Loss, a Chicago-based company focused on workplace wellness, my goal in creating our office space was to provide an open space for open minds. I wanted Retrofit employees to work in a comfortable space that encouraged productivity and movement to counteract the sitting that is typical working for a web-based business.
Retrofit is one of the most unique companies to establish office space in Chicago and we are making headlines with its breakout approach to living a healthy lifestyle. Since Retrofit encourages its clients to find continuous movement throughout the day, I wanted to make sure that our employees can easily “walk the talk” with such features as treadmill desks and raised tables.
Transparency and collaboration are two important factors we considered while designing the Retrofit office space. The glass walls and floor-to-ceiling windows allow employees and guests the opportunity to express ideas in an open forum.
To establish this welcoming environment, we first met with Nelson Francis and Holly Duran of Holly Duran Real Estate Partners in October 2012 to discuss the importance of location, amenities and space. Identifying a location that was close enough to Lake Shore Drive would enable our employees to go for walks, runs, and take walking meetings, and close enough to the train to discourage driving. Identifying a building that had a gym for workout breaks was also critical. We also wanted a lofty feel to encourage creativity, collaboration and movement.
This approach was new for the building; the engineer actually called me in a panic after seeing the exposed painted ceiling thinking it was a mistake. The hip look and feel was fitting for a startup company with an innovative product. Retrofit is not only changing the face of weight loss, but we want our offices to reflect the changing the face of corporate America without the divisions of cubicle walls.
Since many of our employees work remotely throughout the country, the space didn’t have to be very large, but it needed to accommodate our local staff as we scale and to be flexible for events and meetings. Since we projected doubling our staff within a year, we chose a roughly 3,000 square foot space on Wacker Drive, in the heart of Chicago’s growing startup community and financial district. Some have even dubbed the general location, “Silicon Railway” (the stretch of L tracks from the Mart to the Chicago stop). Retrofit offices reside among several Chicago startups that now call that area home: SpotHero, Techweek, Groupon, and Trunk Club are among them.
Once our lease was secured, we met with Hunter Kaiser, from our design firm Creative for Life. This was when the creative juices really started flowing. We didn’t have a large amount of space, but we knew we needed to create an open, flexible, collaborative, and creative work space. We also needed some small, closed work areas for Retrofit wellness experts to hold private Skype video conferences with their weight loss clients. We needed the openness and flexibility to rearrange our office at the drop of a hat to hold on-site exercise classes one minute, and strategic corporate meetings the next. Mobile desks that can be pushed out of the way was the perfect solution. The flexibility of mobile furniture gives us the ability to rearrange our office daily to suit our needs on the fly.We also leveraged some of the latest technology in order to videoconference and do live podcasts throughout different locations in the office. We installed treadmill desks that allow our employees to get their daily steps while working. These moving treadmill desks are a big hit, as they create some healthy competition between employees. It would be tough to tell Retrofit clients that they need to take 10,000 steps a day and use wireless activity trackers to stay accountable to us if we weren’t able to get our own steps in.
Some have said that the minute they enter the door to the quiet, serene space their blood pressure drops. Mission accomplished. Our growing weight loss company is not only empowering clients to live the dream, but also encouraging our employees to do the same.