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Gym-Coworking Hybrids Are the Latest Gig Economy Creation

It was 4 p.m. on a spring afternoon in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and Doug Young had writer’s block. The 42-year-old runs his own communications consulting agency, crafting copy for professional athletes and sports brands. Today, he was drawing a blank—the dreaded plight of many writers, but not an altogether new experience. What was, however, was his coping strategy: sweating himself into productivity.

Instead of staring at a blank screen attempting to string together sentences that wouldn’t come, he hit the weight room of the luxury gym which houses the sleek coworking space where Young spends his weekdays. “I lifted a little bit, I came back,” Young says. “Nobody cared I was wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and I went right back to work.”

For the past year, Young has called the coworking space at Life Time Fitness his “office.” He begins his workday by scanning into the fitness center’s front desk, then taking the elevator to the fourth floor to use the exclusive coworkers-only productivity zone, dubbed Life Time Work, which opened in 2018.

Reminiscent of an Ace Hotel lobby, metropolitan yet Instagrammable, with ample seating in nooks by bookshelves, cushioned taupe and green leather couches, and sprawling cubicle-less wooden tables, Life Time Work is one of the bougier variations on the coworking space trend that has rocketed upwards in the past few years. Born from the rise of remote and contract work, plus the startup boom, traditional offices have started to give way to more coworking spaces. In 2017, the number of coworking spaces globally jumped to over 14,000 from 436 in 2010, according to a survey by coworking conference organizer Global Coworking Unconference Conference, with an estimated 1.7 million people earning a living in coworking spaces worldwide, according to the 2018 Coworking Forecast.

Life Time, which now has four coworking spaces among its 100 gyms, isn’t the only fitness brand starting to fuse coworking and fitness. In 2013, Brooklyn Boulders rock-climbing gym first introduced the coworking-out concept in their Somerville, Massachusetts location, and has since added three more multi-functional locations. Soma Vida, which opened in Austin, Texas in 2008, combines yoga, life coaching, herbal wellness, massage, and offices. And luxury gym Equinox debuted its first coworking space in 2016, and now has six at their Sports Club locations nationwide. Prices range from $95 to $400 for monthly membership rates.

At Life Time Work, green walls and cubby lockers accent the T-shaped room adding an element of zen to a place. Light, inoffensive music—like Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars—fills the common areas, and sunshine streams in from floor-to-ceiling windows. Financial planners and venture capitalists rent out office space, while others, toting laptops and taking calls, meander about common areas. But unlike the thousands of contemporary coworking spaces, this one comes with a few quirks. Every once in awhile, Young hears the thud of weights crashing to the ground or medicine balls tapping the ceiling or gurglings of bass echoing from a Zumba class from the fitness floors below. It’s an unexpected, though not surprising, aspect working at a gym, Young says.

While the proximity to his home brought Young to Life Time, it’s the convenience keeping him there. He has a sleek place for working and working out—complete with a cafe serving protein smoothies and energy grain bowls (and the kind of employees who don’t roll their eyes when you ask for the vegan option) and locker rooms with hot tubs in them. “Is there anything I need that’s not in here?” Young rhetoricizes. “It is a one-stop shop.”

The convenience of these gym-office hybrids, however, cuts both ways, particularly at a time when concepts like “burnout” and “work-life balance” are gaining steam. These days, there are few aspects of American life that are kept sacrosanct from the encroachment of the office: projects over weekends, work calls at dinner, emails at your kid’s soccer games, and, now, an office quite literally in your gym. Courtesy of the mini computers in our pockets, we’re never technically off the clock. Workers report feeling on-edge too: A 2018 Gallup poll found 23 percent of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while 44 percent reported burnout at least sometimes, due to an unmanageable workload.

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