To help our team members improve their health, and keep our health insurance rates from rising, Fire Engine RED recently decided to implement a wellness program.

As many companies have found, in terms of employee participation and actual results, it’s not easy to create a successful wellness program. And you might think it’d be even harder when a company is 100% remote, with no central office, like Fire Engine RED – our team members work from 75+ separate locations in five different countries.

Yet an impressive 78% of our employees participated in our very first walking challenge!

Here’s how we did it … and how you can, too:

Select a doable challenge
We decided to focus on walking. I’ve long been an advocate for the physical and mental benefits of walking. Nearly everyone can do it, it can be done anywhere, and it doesn’t cost anything. Best of all, it can be very habit-forming (in a good way!).

Ensure no team member is left behind
We wanted everyone in the company to feel comfortable about participating, no matter what their fitness level – so we created two groups for our walking challenge: “Level 1” (average of 3,000 steps per day) for team members just starting to boost their fitness activity, and “Level 2” (average of 8,000 steps per day) for our more active team members.

Set a reasonable timeframe
We also wanted the challenge to go long enough so that team members would begin to notice benefits and to make walking a part of their daily routine … but not so long that they’d get discouraged or lose interest. So we decided on a six-week timeframe, with a halfway point at which the daily step goals would increase (to 4,500 in Level 1 and to 10,000 in Level 2).

Create a sense of community
To keep team members motivated, we had a special challenge as a remote company. We thought it was especially important to create a sense of community, so we scheduled a weekly, half-hour “pep rally.” At a scheduled time, everyone was encouraged to dial into a conference number and head out the door for a walk. I’d then ask six to eight team members to speak a bit about how they stayed motivated to walk.

The stories ranged from hilarious to touching … and the calls were a hit with the team. Project manager Ray R. said, “The walking challenge has been a great way to promote wellness, while also getting to know people from different areas of the company.” (Ray himself really embraced the challenge, marking a million-plus steps in just six weeks!)

Track and share progress
Everyone was also encouraged to use a step-tracking device that could sync with our web portal (I use a FitBit, by the way.) The portal showed all our totals, as well as a “leaderboard” with our daily averages. Allowing everyone to see each others’ totals built a spirit of mutual encouragement and resulted in some friendly (but heated!) competitions.

Offer prizes
Team members who finished the six-week challenge and met the average daily step goals were entered into a random drawing for two (2) cash prizes of $185 each. We couldn’t ignore the extraordinary effort of our million-step man, Ray R.; he received a $285 cash prize!

Compile and celebrate the results
When we got to the finish line, we saw that 74% of our Level 1 participants and 67% of our Level 2 participants had reached their goals! At the conclusion of the walking challenge, many of our team members reported that they were feeling more active and healthy. Here’s one success story – Jaci M. told me, “After sitting at my desk for long periods working on my computer or leading meetings, I can use some ‘me time.’ Walking allows me to take a few minutes for myself to recenter, refocus, and refresh.”

Improve and repeat
What’s next? Post-challenge, we looked at what we could continue to do – and what we could change – to help build team members’ excitement for the NEXT walking challenge. We saw that the prizes were a hit, so we added more. And we re-branded our well-liked “pep rallies” into the more memorable and alliterative “Walking Wednesdays.” Now, each week, I start the conference call by setting the table with work- and non-work-related topics for team members to weigh in on. And oh, they do – one team member brought up his fondness for cupcakes made with Guinness beer(!).

As of this writing, we’re onto our THIRD walking challenge! So if your team is considering ANY kind of fitness challenge – whether it’s to supplement a company wellness program or not – feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to hear about your ideas, and offer suggestions based on our experience!