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Making Virtual Classes Work in Your Health Club

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What happened in March 2020 was a shock to the industry. Our facilities were shut down, staff were sent home, and everything went quiet. What became very loud, however, was the member’s need to remain connected to their facility and to their instructors.

Like most of you, we always talked about the need for virtual classes. We knew we would have to dedicate both time and money to create this digital presence in the future. And maybe like some of you, we never did anything about it. When we closed, we pivoted to provide our members with access to the industry’s top instructors and professional digital programming. We thought the membership would be excited to receive such high-quality classes.

Surprisingly, the feedback we received was not what we expected. The membership considered the access as a nice gesture. Below is a recap of what we did, as well as some initial thoughts for how to get started today on your virtual programming:

Try Something

The digital world is only going to grow. Any facility can be a part of this. Keep it simple and try. We all have to start from somewhere. 

During the week of being shut down we decided to do a quick Facebook Live video to reach out to the membership. Our video was very last minute — no preparation and in front of an empty pool. The reaction from the membership was not what we expected. They loved it and wanted more. Our digital presence was brought to life with just a phone, a smile, and a few willing staff who tried. We didn’t get caught up in the details, the perfection, or anything else that would slow us down. Our social presence grew quickly into a full seven-day video and social media schedule. The only goal was to be there for the members. We wanted to inspire and help them through this very difficult time.

Keep the Relationships Strong

Virtual programming has a positive effect on both members and employees. For the employee, the newness of virtual programming provides the opportunity to learn something new, be creative, laugh and gain the energy to keep going. For the membership, virtual programming becomes a critical component in their relationship with you. It’s the opportunity to keep the membership engaged and inspired. It allows them to see you and know you will be there for them. It could affect their decision if, or when, they will return to the fitness facility.

We learned even if people didn’t exercise, they watched us, listened to us and laughed with us. Our own employees and family members started watching. We quickly realized we had to do more than just exercise videos to continue building this unique relationship. We did town halls and created a weekly segment called “Making Life Work.” It was a simple morning chat to update and educate the members and community. We hosted special guests and conducted question and answer talks. We were authentic, caring and tried our best. Our goal was to keep everyone engaged with us and inspired.

Work Within Your Means

We are in the people business and what people need more than ever is people. There is still a learning curve for providing virtual programming. There is no right or wrong way of doing this. Your members and community need you, so be there. It makes a difference.

We are nowhere near having the type of professional virtual classes we would like to. We do not have the money at this time to invest. As soon as we are able to, we most certainly will make this a priority. For now, what we do have is a lot of heart. We strive to keep our programming authentic, fun and educational. At the end of the day, we need to be there. You need to be there.  Your employees, your members and your community need you. Lights, camera, action.

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Karen M. Raisch-Siegel

Karen M. Raisch-Siegel is the executive director of LifeWorks of Southwest General, a health and fitness facility owned and operated by Southwest General Hospital. Karen has been the executive director for over 15 years and is responsible for full operations of the health and wellness center. Karen holds a master’s of science degree in exercise physiology and a bachelor’s of science degree in advertising and business administration. She is a member of the REX roundtables for executives, currently serves on the Middleburg Heights Chamber of Commerce board, the Olmsted Chamber of Commerce board and Valley Riding Inc. board of directors, and is a certified group exercise instructor who actively continues to teach.

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