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Health Club Management

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Interview: Avi Yehiel, We Work

New York brand WeWork is best known for providing shared workspaces. However, the company is now casting its net further afield by adding fitness and wellness to its offerings. Head of wellness Avi Yehiel tells Kath Hudson about its innovative new wellness concept, Rise by We

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 1
Avi Yehiel
Avi Yehiel
We want to make wellness easier to access at work, because making time for meditation or a quick workout in the middle of the day has so many great health and mental benefits

We see Rise by We as the future of wellbeing,” says head of wellness at WeWork, Avi Yehiel. “It’s a new concept of social fitness brought to life in an architecturally stunning environment that combines human connection with great training programmes and mindfulness.”

Cherry-picking aspects from both health clubs and spas, Yehiel says the model is groundbreaking because it’s the first wellness facility to offer group fitness, multiple boutique studios, wellness programmes, personal training and a complete spa experience all under one roof. Members no longer need to jump from studio to studio, but can service all their wellbeing needs under one roof: a Muay Thai class, followed by a sauna and meditation one day and a HIIT class followed by yoga and massage the next.

Although a health club and office space may seem unlikely bedfellows, the concept fits with WeWork’s mission to make every facet of people’s lives as enjoyable and sociable as possible. Launched in 2010 by entrepreneurs Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, WeWork sets out to curate office space where “people work to make a life, not just a living.” The company’s workspace service ranges from a simple hot desk for solopreneurs to a custom build-out for companies. WeWork has now expanded to 170 offices in 58 cities around the world, with 150,000 members. Valued at almost US$20bn, it’s in the same league as Uber and Airbnb.

Space to breathe
In keeping with its aim to make the working environment sociable and keep workers healthy, the company has organised sporting events at its offices from the outset, including weekly football and basketball matches, fitness classes, meditation and retreats. Yehiel says Rise, the first physical site, is simply an extension of this philosophy. The company tested the idea early last year with WeWork Wellness, a pilot programme offering 20 to 30 classes per week, including yoga, HIIT, pilates, kickboxing and meditation, to WeWork members in New York City.

The success of the pilot encouraged the company to launch Rise last October at one of its New York offices – a site that serves about 2,500 WeWork members.

“We want to make wellness easier to access, because coming down for a meditation or a quick workout in the middle of the day has so many great physical and mental health benefits,“ says Yehiel. “The need for holistic wellness is now bigger than ever. People are working harder and for longer, so increased stress in the workplace is one of the biggest problems in modern life. Our aim is to offer a place that lets members take a moment or two to breathe, relax, and get ready for what’s next.”

Sense of community
So what is it that makes the Rise experience so special? Many of the elements that have proven popular with WeWork users have been translated into the health and fitness setting. First is the brand’s highly stylised environment and distinct design. Yehiel says that, like all WeWork spaces, the Rise space has been designed to feel curated, special and connected as a whole.

“We have juxtaposed elements of hard and soft, and light and dark, both visually and texturally,” he says. “The design team set the building’s structural steel components against polished finishes and natural materials, such as stone, marble and wood. Custom artwork has been added to create a timeless and layered aesthetic.”

Next is the social element that WeWork has created at its office spaces, which permeates the experience at Rise. “WeWork’s mission is to humanise work, so putting the social experience at the centre of fitness is how we intend to reinvent the traditional gym experience,” says Yehiel. “It’s personal when it needs to be, social when it needs to be, and always welcoming.

“We’re also bringing WeWork’s focus on community to wellness, which is apparent from the moment you step inside and are greeted by our Rise by We community team. Rather than coming to the gym, putting your headphones on and running on a treadmill alone, Rise by We’s group classes and semi-private training encourage community and connectedness, while providing the instruction and encouragement you need to push further and reach your goals.”

Thirdly, WeWork has been selective about the mix of services it offers for rejuvenating body, mind and spirit. There are four different workout areas. The Fight studio is where boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts take place. Flight is designed for high-intensity cardio activities and strength training. It incorporates traditional training equipment on one side and battle ropes in the middle. The third studio is Mindfulness, a sanctuary for relaxation, where yoga and meditation take place. Finally, Turf is home to a high-performance training programme, which uses science, technology and coaching. Members have an in-depth assessment, including a 3D body scan, which is used in the creation of a bespoke training programme.

New bathing tradition
The wellness offering is another essential element that binds the experience together and the concept for the Rise superspa was inspired by the traditions of communal bathing. “From the Greeks to the Russians, every culture has its own bathing tradition,” says Yehiel “We wanted to create our own culture around that type of traditional relaxation and recovery. We see it as another way of bringing people together.”

The spa area also offers aromatherapy and has steam rooms and saunas, a communal hammam area, as well as a cold-water plunge. Three forms of therapeutic massage are available, rather than cosmetic treatments like pedicures and facials. “We see recovery as a key aspect of fitness and exercise, and we see relaxation and rejuvenation as key to maintaining focus and success in both our professional and personal lives. Therefore, we have focussed on offering the most therapeutic treatments in line with these goals,” says Yehiel.

Although WeWork has been delighted with the positive response to Rise and plans to grow the community in the future, there are no immediate plans to launch more sites. However, the company certainly won’t stand still. It will continue to look for ways to bring its progressive outlook to contemporary lifestyles. A testament to that is WeWork’s recent acquisition of Meetup, a company whose mission it is to get people to meet up and create physical communities, rather than digital ones.

WEWORK AND ‘RISE BY WE’

WeWork founders Adam Neumann (left) and Miguel McKelvey wanted to make working a sociable experience, while making wellness more accessible. In October 2017, the Rise by We fitness concept was launched in the WeWork office space at 85 Broad Street, in New York’s financial district. Rise by We consists of a gym, yoga studio, boxing studio and spa.

WeWork founders Adam Neumann (left) and Miguel McKelvey
WeWork founders Adam Neumann (left) and Miguel McKelvey

WeLive

Last year, the company made its first move out of the working environment by applying its philosophy to living spaces. WeLive rents out co-living, furnished apartments of various sizes in buildings where laundry rooms double as bars and event spaces, and there are communal kitchens, roof decks and hot tubs. There are now two locations – one in New York City and one in Crystal City, Virginia. A third has been announced for Seattle in 2020.

WeGrow

WeWork isn’t stopping at living, working or working out spaces. Instead it wants to create opportunities wherever it sees a gap in the market. One of these is WeGrow, a micro-school where mindfulness, yoga, farm-to-table cooking and other less traditional subjects are on the curriculum. Children learn reading and maths skills by growing their own food at the school’s farm and selling it at a farm stand in the WeWork offices. Going forward, the company would like to open WeGrow schools in WeWork offices, so that families can travel to work and school together and meet at lunchtime.

Members and non-members can use the Fight studio space for boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts
Members and non-members can use the Fight studio space for boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts
WeWork’s shared workspaces are expanding to offer users a wide range of fitness, wellness and spa facilities
WeWork’s shared workspaces are expanding to offer users a wide range of fitness, wellness and spa facilities
The Rise design team juxtaposed concrete and steel structures with natural materials like marble and wood
The Rise design team juxtaposed concrete and steel structures with natural materials like marble and wood
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/938514_970472.jpg
Shared office space provider We Work is breaking new ground with the launch of its first gym in New York. HCM speaks to the man overseeing the brand's move into fitness and wellness.
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