A quiet hum keeps Jenny Hoefel company as she scrolls through her emails and researches the next event she’s planning for Zillow Group. As an events specialist for the company, she considers walking while she works “conditioning” for running busy events. And no, she isn’t walking around downtown Seattle, where Zillow Group headquarters is located. The hum is coming from the LifeSpan treadmill desk Jenny’s using while she works.
Just like they sound, these special treadmills are fitted with ergonomic desks and plug-ins for all the necessary electronics of the modern workday — including phones, charging stations, televisions and more. Zillow employees conduct one-on-one meetings in the treadmill rooms, jump on conference calls, respond to emails and walk off their catered lunches.
Zillow Group — with offices now in Seattle, Lincoln, Irvine, New York, San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada — was one of the first companies to embrace the treadmill desk trend. Spencer Rascoff, Zillow Group’s CEO, first encountered the idea. He was a bit tentative about the concept at first, but installed one anyway. Now, he walks for a few hours a day and has created spaces for employees to do the same. Employees can schedule treadmill time and choose from many rooms fitted with walking desks.
It’s no wonder staying fit has become a part of working at Zillow. To encourage employees to keep fit throughout the week, they received Fitbits to track their daily steps. Offices are now being retrofitted with standing desks. And each office is also participating in a local Tough Mudder obstacle race this year.
Treadmill time fills up fast, according to Keri McGhee, who books her time in the morning or late afternoon when the rooms aren’t as full. She walks three to four hours per week as her busy schedule allows, saying it “helps work performance and gives me an energy boost.”
For Hoefel, a horrible commute leaves little time before or after work for exercising. Walking on the treadmill at work helps her achieve fitness goals, stay focused and feel “much more refreshed in the afternoon than after a cup of coffee.”
Lauren Bakke, an events coordinator, is walking at work to help her get in shape for her June wedding.
Most employees walk in their regular work shoes or keep a pair of tennis shoes under their desks, and walk at a calm pace of 2 mph. The treadmill desks only accelerate to 4 mph as a safety precaution.
Despite the obvious fitness benefits, LifeSpan president Peter Schenk wants people to know that treadmill desks are walking machines; they aren’t running or workout machines.
“The right treadmill desk, used properly, won’t tax you physically. It won’t make you sweaty or sound out of breath. It will simply replace sitting still with movement,” Schenk says.
In addition to creating healthier employees, treadmill desks can also boost productivity and performance, according to research from the University of Minnesota. And Zillow isn’t the only company to jump on board with the concept. Dairy Queen, Microsoft, Google and Evernote have all added treadmill desks at their headquarters.
Schenk shares their enthusiasm. “Active workplaces will continue to grow,” he says. “We’re just helping push it into the mainstream.”
Rascoff has turned into a self-proclaimed treadmill desk addict, with more than a few employees following in the CEO’s footsteps.
“It’s not required for companies to do this, but it’s a great perk that makes me feel better personally and physically,” Hoefel says. “I love it.”