tips & tricks

7 Steps to Running a Successful Company Step Challenge

blog author
Jul 11, 2022

Workplace wellness is having a moment in the spotlight. The pandemic turned the world on its head and gave companies a chance to rethink how they operate. It also gave employees time to consider what benefits they value and desire in their place of work. Employees increasingly expect more than gym stipends and the occasional fitness class from their employers. This is especially true as more companies shift to fully or partially remote work. Employees are looking to their companies to go the extra mile and offer encompassing benefits that support their physical, mental, and social wellbeing.

If you're not offering wellness programming as a benefit, you're missing the boat! According to SHRM, around 80% of employers now offer wellness programs as part of employee benefits. Corporate wellness programs are increasingly becoming an expectation.

If you're looking to recruit and retain your top quality workforce, wellness programs are an essential tool in your toolbox. In addition to helping your employees be healthier, wellness programs ideally also offer opportunities for fun competition. They can help combat employee loneliness in a remote or hybrid workforce by creating meaningful social interaction amongst employees.

We recommend incorporating physical activity in your wellness program by starting off with a classic: the step challenge!

What is a step challenge?

hiking trail sign

A step challenge tracks participants' daily step totals over a set period of time. Users typically track their steps using a wearable fitness device or the built-in step tracker on their smartphone. There are lots of different ways to set up a step challenge! For example, participants can compete to earn the most steps and top the leaderboard. Or, they can build a streak by reaching a minimum number of steps each day. Regardless of how you set up a step challenge, it can help get your employees moving!

Walking has proven health benefits, and has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is accessible to almost everyone, and users of various fitness levels can join in. Folks with limited mobility can convert other activities, such as using a wheelchair or swimming, into steps. Step challenges are easy to join and require almost zero equipment or expertise. With such a low barrier to entry, no one will be left on the sidelines and everyone can reap the benefits of moving!

Step challenges also naturally build community. Participants can encourage each other and compete against each other, share pictures of their walks, and chat about how the challenge is going. Running a company step challenge can help bring your workplace together with fun competition!

Why should I run an office step challenge?

At MoveSpring, we believe in making fitness fun for everyone. A company step challenge, done well, does just that! It's engaging, it helps employees be healthier, and it creates community.

Research from Gallup has found that engagement and wellbeing are the two most important factors influencing employee performance.An office step challenge is the go-to strategy for tying employee engagement and wellness together. It builds relationships between employees and gets them moving at their own pace.

Do you want to help your employees focus on their physical and mental wellbeing? Interested in improving social connections at work? If the answer is yes (we sure hope it is), then a company step challenge is probably for you!

Where do I start?

person standing at the bottom of a staircase

Not sure where to start? We'll help you get going in no time! Follow our steps to success.

First, decide what platform you want to use to run your challenge. You can track steps manually or use a step-tracking platform.

Manual tracking is the old school method of running a step challenge. The pro of manual tracking is that it is free. You can use your preferred technology to keep track of steps (Excel, Google Sheets, etc.). The con is that it can take a lot of time and energy to manage. If you're curious to learn more about manual tracking, we tested various methods and have advice for you here.

Using a step-tracking platform is a breeze compared to manual tracking! These platforms sync user step totals directly in from a connected device, which saves loads of time for admins and users. Users typically prefer this experience as they don't have to remember to send their totals to an admin every day.

There are a few different step-tracking platforms out there, so we suggest thinking through some of these considerations when you're researching options:

Once you've decided on a platform, it's time to plan your challenge!

7 Steps to Success:

An office step challenge is only as successful as every participant stepping in it is. Set your employees up for success and avoid common pitfalls by investing some time up front to build out a fun and engaging challenge.

We've distilled our experience from 5+ years of running step challenges into 7 key areas to focus on when running your step challenge.

The 7 steps to running a successful company step challenge are:

  1. Set Simple, Clear Goals
  2. Choose a Challenge Structure that Works
  3. Share Expectations Up Front
  4. Communicate with Users
  5. Recognize and Reward Participants
  6. Get Your Timing Right
  7. Make it Fun and Have Fun!

Let's dive in!

1. Set Simple, Clear Goals

First thing's first: Set goals for your step challenge.

lightbulb on chalkboard

You need to know why you're running an office step challenge before you can put one together. Are you interested in bringing the company together for some friendly competition? Do you want to encourage folks who usually don't move as much to get excited about stepping?

Whatever your goals, it can help to start with the people who will be stepping—your employees. Run a formal or informal survey to see who is interested in participating in a step challenge and why. Do they want to get to know their coworkers better, step for a cause, or move for rewards? Knowing what will help drive engagement can help you design your challenge around goals that matter to your company.

This is especially important if your organization is new to step challenges!

Here are some common reasons companies get stepping together:

  • Get employees moving and active
  • Encourage participants to spend more time outside in nature
  • Build community and friendly communication
  • Step for a charity or cause
  • Celebrate company holidays
  • Create a culture of valuing physical, social, and mental health
  • Have fun!

Whatever your goals, keep your challenge simple, custom, and values-driven. Don't just invite your participants to your step challenge. Tell them why they should participate and what they're going to get out of it. Share your goals with your employees to show them the value of joining in.

Need help setting a realistic step goal? We've got you covered.

2. Choose a Challenge Structure that Works

Next up? Decide how you want to run your challenge!

There are tons of great ways to structure a challenge. Start by deciding if you want it to be competitive or collaborative. Think through how to be inclusive to your employee population. You might consider creating "tiered" challenges for your beginner, intermediate, and more advanced steppers. You can also choose a group goal, or reward for more than just the top steppers.

  • Want to fire up the competition? Choose a classic Leaderboard or Team Leaderboard challenge, where users compete for the top spot!
  • Want to step together? Have participants travel together in a virtual race. We love seeing companies travel from office to office, moving the distance from a New York to a Boston office for example!
  • Want to step for a cause? Pick a total amount of steps that will unlock a donation to a chosen charity!

Plan ahead and set up your challenge early to avoid last-minute scrambling. If you don't have a lot of time to plan, just stick to a simple challenge structure that lets you hit the ground running!

3. Share Expectations Up Front

When you're running a step challenge, you get to be the ref on the sidelines making sure everything is running fairly and smoothly. Share your expectations with your users before the challenge begins. Make sure you also share the goals and prize structure, so they know what they will get out of participating. This helps drive them to engage and see value in joining in.

Here are some common expectations to share:

  • How users can join the challenge and participate
  • Important dates and deadlines for your challenge
  • If users can convert activities other than stepping (i.e. biking, yoga, bungee jumping, the usual)
  • How you'll handle non-syncing users (if you're running a team challenge) and user questions
  • How you'll manage any suspected cheating (check out our blog post if you want some tips for this!)

It can be helpful at this stage to also get leadership buy-in to your challenge. We've seen that some of the most successful challenges are driven by company leaders engaging actively by stepping and chatting with other participants. Leadership buy-in helps set the stage that your challenge is aligned with your company values. And who doesn't think it's fun to try to out-step the boss?

You should engage actively in the challenge as the admin as well. This will allow you to monitor how the challenge is going. You'll also show your users that you aren't just setting this up and forgetting it. Your participation shows users you care.

4. Communicate with Users

notification symbols above mobile device

One of the most important parts of a successful company step challenge isn't actually the stepping! It's communicating. Sending well-timed communication with reminders and instructions is critical to the success of your challenge.

We get questions from admins about communicating with users all the time! Here are the key questions to consider:

How often should I communicate with users?

During a challenge, we suggest communicating at least 2-4 times per week! The key is keeping participants motivated and informed.

What venue should I use for communication?

This will vary by company, but we recommend having a few highly trafficked and visible venues for communicating. Identify the places you know your users check often. Communication options in MoveSpring include announcements, challenge content, content campaigns, and our beloved in-app chat feature. Outside of MoveSpring you might have email, Slack, Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, and the list goes on.

What should I communicate?

Think about what you want to communicate before, during, and after the challenge wraps up. Focus on keeping things fun and motivating. Here are some examples.

  • Build the hype! Before the challenge, let your users know how to join the challenge, when they'll need to join by, and how the challenge will run.
  • Call out stats, shout-out users, and keep everyone engaged. During the challenge, share updates on how the challenge is going. Keep the comms light-hearted and fun to drive participants to keep engaging with each other and stepping to the end.
  • Announce winners and recap. Make sure you end the challenge strong by showing everyone how they did! Announce how many steps were moved overall, who topped the leaderboard, and any prize winners.

With the Ultimate plan on MoveSpring, we provide email and print communication templates. These are easy to customize by inserting your organization details, such as company name or challenge start date. Don’t fret about the timing—our set of templates come with a recommended schedule.

5. Recognize and Reward Participants

One of the most important parts of any good step challenge is recognition! Rewards and prizes incentivize participation, drive engagement, and acknowledge everyone's hard work.

trophy next to confetti

We have a whole blog post with ideas on rewards, but the most important things we suggest are:

  • Reward more than just the top steppers. Especially if you have some really high achievers or ultra-athletes. Even the playing field by rewarding users for consistency and participation, and by running raffles!
  • Resist the temptation to reward with extravagant or expensive prizes. This can lead to high levels of cheating. There are better, scientifically supported ways to motivate people. Intrinsic motivation, such as recognition or a fun experience, is highly effective and can lead to stronger, longer lasting engagement.
  • Get creative with your prize ideas, and theme them to your company or challenge!

6. Get Your Timing Right

There are a couple of common timing blunders that can get in the way of a successful challenge. Here are some mistakes we've seen over the years that you can avoid:

  • Keep the challenge under 45 days. When you drag a challenge on for too long, your users will lose steam. Keeping challenges to a few weeks actually increases engagement as users can stay focused the whole time.
  • Pay attention to the calendarIf you run a challenge in your company's busiest season, it won't matter how exciting it is. Your users will be distracted with goals and deadlines and might not have the time to prioritize getting their steps in. Fit your challenge in when the most people can participate.
  • Avoid back-to-back-to-back challenges. Users can experience burnout after a series of consecutive challenges. If you want to run an annual wellness program with multiple step challenges, build in breaks. Our most successful clients run between 2-6 company-wide challenges a year.

If you build out an annual wellness plan, you can always build hype for future challenges in your off-challenge times.

7. Make it Fun and Have Fun!

Last but definitely not least, the most important part of any step challenge is the fun! We believe workplace initiatives should be fun above anything else. Why? If a challenge isn't engaging, users won't stick with it.

Some of our favorite tips for keeping the stepping fun are:

  • Create silly and fun themed challenge and team names
  • Encourage everyone to share photos of their walks, and react with emojis in the chat
  • Call out user stats (along with some lighthearted smack talking 😅)
  • Come up with creative prizes
  • A lighthearted step challenge can have positive ripple effects through your whole company. It will lighten the tone at your office, help employees de-stress, and give everyone a way to socialize in a low pressure way.

A step challenge isn't a silver bullet, but it can go a long way in creating a thriving, happy, and connected workforce.

Keep the fun going!

One-time office step challenges can be a blast, and you might be wondering what comes next? Go beyond a one-time event with holistic wellness and annual wellness programming!

Wellness challenges beyond stepping

If you want to keep the momentum going, think beyond just stepping! Focus on employee wellbeing with holistic health challenges. Some of our favorite examples of daily holistic challenges are:

  • Meditate for one minute
  • Drink 64 oz of water
  • Get 8 hours of sleep
  • Write down 3 things you're grateful for

We make it easy to run a challenge based on any activity on MoveSpring. You can use our actionable content feature to promote and track a wide variety of healthy actions.

Need inspiration? Check out our ideas for custom activity tracking challenges.

Stay active all year long

Build out a whole year's worth of programming! You can mix activity challenges with more holistic wellness challenges. Create a schedule that works for your company and focus on wellness all year long.

Still not sure where to begin?

At MoveSpring, we offer complimentary onboarding to help you work through each of these steps! We want everyone to develop the most successful challenges possible for you and your employees.

We have the platform and the people standing behind you cheering you on every step of the way, regardless of your plan type. You can also take advantage of our program planning and guidance in our Ultimate plan if you want to leave the creative heavy lifting to us.

Contact us to learn more about what our platform can offer to your organization. We'd love to chat more about how MoveSpring can make a positive impact at your company.

From all of us at MoveSpring, happy stepping! 👟

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