Imagine going to your office every day, returning emails, drawing up proposals, talking with prospects, conducting meetings—and having a good cardio workout at the same time. A growing number of businesses are outfitting employee workstations with treadmill and bicycle desks in an effort to keep both their workers and their balance sheet healthy. One of the pioneers in this emerging trend is LifeSpan, a Utah-based supplier of specially designed units that combine workspace and aerobic exercise equipment. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Peter Schenk, president of LifeSpan, about its breakout products and the role that employee wellness plays in improving productivity.
RL: How did the idea of the treadmill desk come about?
PS: LifeSpan had years of experience making treadmills and other wellness products. We started noticing many of our customers were building homemade treadmill desks using our treadmills. These customers weren’t necessarily designers, but they were taking an initiative for their health, which we loved. It got us thinking: what if we applied our own professional design and manufacturing know-how to building a treadmill desk from the ground up, that took into account what we’d learned they liked and didn’t like about their homemade models? That’s why the first LifeSpan Treadmill Desk TR1200-DT5 we released has features like a system to keep cables out of the way, a comfy rest for your wrist, and a roomy desktop to hold everything you’d need in a workday.
RL: What have you discovered about the relationship between employee wellness and employee productivity or morale?
PS: It’s unusual if a day goes by and we haven’t heard from a customer who has told us how much our active workstations have impacted their life. When an employee is getting a full day of physical activity at the office, it makes them look forward to going to work. It contributes to their sense of well being, and helps them feel more energetic, more focused, and more productive. It’s not just about staving off that mid-afternoon slump. It’s about improving the atmosphere of your office.
RL: How does a sedentary lifestyle in the workplace affect the bottom line of a business?
PS: Sitting all day can pose long-term health risks like diabetes and cardiovascular problems that ultimately impact a business’s bottom line. By offering workers a way to prevent the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle, businesses will save money in the long run on healthcare costs. The health of your workforce is a smart investment.
PS: Similar to our treadmill desks, the LifeSpan Bike Desk C3-DT7 is designed to keep you moving throughout the day without even thinking about it. The desktop size and features are the same. They’re both beneficial to your health and work performance. It’s only a matter of preference.
RL: What role should a business play in promoting the fitness of their employees?
PS: The success of a business depends on the well being and performance of its employees. We’ve seen a number of businesses purchase multiple treadmill desks for their employees to use individually, sometimes setting up conference areas dedicated entirely to treadmill desks. Some of our customers get creative by issuing challenges, like miles walked, weight lost, and other benchmarks that add competition and incentive to the mix.
RL: Do you have any results that you could share with us about your products and their reception in the workplace?
PS: Last year alone, our treadmill desk sales tripled and show no signs of slowing down. The trend continues to gain steam. We’re seeing treadmill desks move from the realm of early adopters and fitness/tech-minded companies into mainstream corporate America.
RL: Your website says that it's time to start "rethinking how we work." What did you mean by that?
PS: Working hard doesn’t need to equate to poor health. Sitting all day can take years off a person’s life. We should do whatever is in our power to bring more physical movement into our days. With that in mind, we’re about to expand our active workplace line by releasing two new items meant to change the way an office operates. We’re calling them LifeSpan ConfigureDesks. They’re designed to fit inside an existing office cubicle and other areas. They allow multiple office workers to either share a treadmill or bike desk, or use them individually side by side.
PS: Don’t underestimate the power of a good challenge. A small change could even be issuing pedometers to staff and seeing who can squeeze in the most steps in a day.
RL: Final thoughts about health and productivity that small businesses should know?
PS: To clear up a misperception of treadmill desks in general, I’d like to point out that they’re not exercise or workout machines. They move slowly—most people use them between one and two miles per hour—so you never get sweaty or sound out of breath in work conversations. They’re quieter than most people think, like the soft whisper of a computer fan. And finally, I did this entire interview while walking and working on a LifeSpan Treadmill Desk!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.