Recently, our team at Kapwing moved into a new office space that we've been using sparingly due to the pandemic. As part of setting up the new space, we dealt with a variety of logistics, from setting up desks to figuring out spacing to making sure everyone had physical access. One issue that went back and forth, however, was whether or not we should put a weight rack inside the office. While the initial thinking was that our team would appreciate an area to work out, we quickly realized that a weight rack also came with connotations that not everyone appreciated. We were surprised to find that this particular issue struck a chord with many folks and left our team evenly divided over what the right decision was.
Many tech companies provide a gym for their employees. I personally remember when I was at Google, Googlers were provided with many fitness related perks, including gym access, fitness classes, personal training, and more. When I was at Google, I even joined the Googler Masters Swim Team, which had a coach and organized practice 3 times a week! The Google fitness perks are so famous that they often make it into the press, like this article from Business Insider.
While our team at Kapwing doesn't have the resources to provide employees with all those perks, we thought it might be nice if we provided some workout equipment in the office so that people who did go in could take advantage of it and not need to subscribe to their own gym membership. However, when we took a poll of everyone's opinions, not everyone was on board:
Not everyone voted in the poll, but from more anecdotal surveying, a little over a half said yes, but nearly 40% said no. Initially, I admit I was surprised - why would employees not want a free perk that helps them work out and be healthy? And on top of that, if they didn't want to work out, the weight rack wouldn't affect a working schedule or office life in any way.
It turns out, assuming that was wrong. There are a lot of implications of a weight rack in the office that went beyond "healthy exercise equipment", and after taking everyone's opinions into account, we felt that the best outcome (and the one that would make everyone the most comfortable) was to not put a rack in the office.
Our employees who supported having a weight rack in the office argued that it would be a great perk that would be a lot nicer and less risky than having to use a city gym. Especially during covid times, supporters felt it would be ideal to have access to a private weight rack. Some also felt that it would be a huge convenience, especially because the new office has a shower as well, which meant that working, working out, and showering could all happen in one place.
However, there were also many reasonable voices that raised concerns. Some were concerned about the practical aspects of a rack - it could take up a large part of a room that could otherwise be used for working or conferencing. Others were concerned about the noisiness of a weight rack or weights dropping.
One large concern was around the perception of having a weight rack in the office. Having a lifting area is associated with a darker side of tech culture, and a valid concern was raised around making our office more inclusive for everyone, whether they lifted weights or not. Full weight racks are also more associated with "bro-y" culture and may be more off-putting than inclusive for employees who don't life or like to associate with gym culture. The idea of associating work with routines outside of work, like exercise, was also something that wasn't appealing for many teammates.
Some argued that instead of a weight rack, a more inclusive area would be one less oriented towards heavy lifting, and more oriented towards de-stressing, finding balance, and meditation.
Another valid concern was around the hygiene of an exercise area accessible to everyone. Especially during covid times, having a clean area with good ventilation is important, and having people heavily exercising in the office would not be a positive step towards that goal.
While it may seem silly at first glance to make such a big deal about a weight rack in the office, having a discussion around it and understanding all the implications involved led us ultimately to creating a more inclusive environment for everyone. I think it's important as technologists to think about how to make work inclusive in all areas, including physical spaces and perks. The weight rack, while viewed by some as a "perk", turned out to be something that could create an environment where not everyone is comfortable. A simple piece of exercise equipment could possibly down the line cause someone to choose not to join the company. We're glad that we talked to our team about it and in the end made the decision to leave the weight rack out of the office. The next challenge for us is to figure out how to best support everyone to live healthier lives while we're remote!