Source: iStock 2021
#BeActive Workplace Award 2020 – House of Code
Appropriately enough, perhaps, Danish technology firm House of Code, a computer coding company, has a keen understanding of programming when it comes to work schedules. Their bold initiative to allow employees to dedicate two hours of their working week to physical activity has earned House of Code the 2020 #BeActive Workplace Award.
The initiative is not about breaking any established office codes. “It is just a thing we do every day,” says Henrik Grove, the Chief Operating Officer (COO). “It was simple. We thought about giving people the chance to exercise during work. So, we allowed people two hours a week. That means we pay them to do physical activity instead of doing work-related tasks.”
Based in Odense, Denmark’s third-largest city, House of Code not only allows staff two hours of exercise a week, but it also offers one more hour for personal development.
Grove says the idea emerged from discussions about the effect of desk-bound careers on people’s muscles, bones and posture. “We don’t know how our body will react after 30 years in a seated position,” he says. “But as a company, we have a responsibility for the work environment. We have to provide a place that is healthy. And it cannot be only an individual effort, it has to be a joint one.”
Around 80% of House of Code’s 23 employees make use of the simple system of providing time in the working week for well-being. It has become part of the company culture, and almost half of the employees take part in a daily five-minute activity break at around 2pm: a two-minute plank and a three-minute wall squat.
Physical activity helps connect employees and creates a friendly atmosphere. There is a wide variety of sports to choose from including yoga, running or cycling together, soccer, swimming, street basketball at a nearby court, badminton and even ice hockey. “We believe that activity creates productivity," says Grove.
Mental health and social connections are also part of the programme. Managers have to spend half an hour each month walking with each co-worker outside in the fresh air. “This is to connect with employees, and support mental and physical health,” says Grove.
When the coronavirus hit Denmark and staff had to work from home, the company hired a mental trainer who coaches sports teams to help people who were missing social interaction. One of the results of this was a series of narrated mindfulness audio tracks to help coders who need a break to clear their heads.
This year, the company offered employees the chance to register for a physical event, like a run or a bike race. To help break the tension from sitting in front of a computer screen at their desks, House of Code also offered one-on-one sessions with a physical/occupational therapist.
Other initiatives aimed at building a healthy environment include providing fresh fruit, breakfast and lunch every day so that everyone has the opportunity to eat healthily. They provide tables that can be raised or lowered, rocker boards to stand on when working at standing desks and fitness balls to use instead of chairs.
Staff members receive an annual allowance of 1000 DKK (€135) to purchase corporate-branded sports clothing. The may also consult with a physiotherapist who visits the office for help with improving sitting or standing positions at the desk.
The aim is to ensure that the emphasis on health supports the overall well-being of the company. “Exercise helps create a friendly environment, increases productivity and reduces the number of sick leaves,” says Grove.
What has been the effect of these efforts? Grove says measuring change is difficult because the benefits have been on offer since the start of the company six years ago. One thing he can point to is that House of Code has developed the reputation of being a desirable workplace. “This is an industry where companies struggle to attract employees, but we have never had trouble hiring applicants or retaining them,” he says.
At around two per year, staff also take a remarkably low number of sick days. In 2019, the House of Code won the title of Denmark’s Healthiest Workplace in the region of Southern Denmark. Danish political and business leaders invited Grove to a summit on physical and mental health.
“I’m so proud and happy with the #BeActive award. And surprised also,” Grove says. “Anyone can do the same thing as us. This is not difficult. If you want a good business, you have to look after the most precious resource: the co-worker. Our message is: do this not because you have to but because you believe in it – it is worth it.”