Standing Desks, Cornhole, and Shooting Ranges– How Does Your Company Build Community?

Whack! A beanbag smacks against a wooden board, slides through a hole, and the office erupts in cheers! This is the first thing I witness upon walking through the office doors of Salo, a staffing agency in Minneapolis. It’s 11:00am on a Wednesday morning and the staff is playing cornhole (or doghouse, or bagtoss, depending on where you’re from). No matter what you call it, you don’t expect to see this game at the office.Salo1

Salo is different than your normal staffing agency. With pinball machines and ping-pong tables, they have the vibe of a Silicon Valley startup. They deserve extra credit, though, because they had standing desks before they were cool. They were the home base of Dr James Levine’s first “chair-release” intervention in 2008. Dr Levine, credited as the inventor of the treadmill desk, is a pioneer in creating active environments for both adults and kids.

While in Minneapolis for a conference, I stopped by to see what the office looks like 7 years after Dr Levine and his team have left. The energy is tangible. While there’s the normal amount of keyboard punching and phone ringing, people are also moving around– walking, talking to each other, and quite honestly, smiling and laughing a lot.

The design choices they’ve made to the space include:

  • Adjustable standing desks for all employees (WorkriteErgo— the same high-end line that our good friends at venture capital firm ffvc use– you can read David Teten’s in-depth write-up of their design choices on his blog)
  • A group of treadmill desks (Steelcase)
  • Various balance boards for employees to stand on at their desks (The Level, which recently raised $500,000 on their Indiegogo campaign)
  • A quiet room for napping, meditating, or simply taking a break.

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The internal meetings they have are almost always on their feet (It’s been shown that standing meetings improve performance):

  • On Mondays, the entire staff stands for their weekly meeting.
  • They have “Huddles”– short standing meetings between a few people.
  • They frequently take walking meetings around downtown Minneapolis.IMG_5250

I spent a long time chatting with Maureen Sullivan, marketing manager for Salo, about their various initiatives. What struck me about this conversation was that the core reasoning behind their health-related policies has nothing to do with lowering health insurance premiums or reducing absenteeism. She explained that all of Salo’s policies revolve around bringing their employees closer together:

“It’s more about making meaningful connections– creating opportunities to connect with one another–than it is about body fat or BMI. When we’re moving, we are connecting more, and there’s just more energy.”  

This is demonstrated by their other unique office policies:

  • Employees have to change desks every quarter. “It gives people a different perspective. You don’t get attached to where you are, and it creates a more fluid environment in which everyone gets to know each other really well,” Maureen says.
  • Mandatory Fun Days– Once per quarter, during work hours, and no matter how much work the office has, there is a mandatory activity that takes place outside of the office, such as a city-wide scavenger hunt or going to a shooting range. “This really ensures that even when it’s crunch time, it’s clear that we still prioritize work-life balance.”

I asked Maureen why creating connections is so important to Salo, and she answered eloquently:

“We’re taking the mission of the business– Connecting people, Evolving Business– and building it into our internal culture. From a worldview, in the places where people are healthier and live longer than average, there tends to be a strong sense of connection and community. If you think about technology and the pace that we’re going, many of those connections go by the wayside. What we’re seeing is that these connections matter a lot. We value that and we’ve seen the impact. Many wellness programs go to the surface, but it’s not just about the food and the exercise, it’s bigger than that. We thrive when we’re connecting with other people. This is our culture, this is who we are.”

While standing desks and walking meetings may improve your team’s health, look to the deeper, underlying values of your company to drive your wellness initiatives and you’ll create a much larger impact on your staff, company, and clients.

Jake Koenig
Cofounder, FitYourSpace