When COVID-19 resulted in a nation-wide lockdown in the second week of March, we at cure.fit had no idea how long this would last. But what we did know is this — when we reopen, our centers would not be able to function the way they did pre-pandemic. Utmost care had to be taken to ensure safety for our customers and employees, and it took months of thorough research, tight planning and implementation to become known as the safest gym in the country.
Here’s a peek into the story of how we made it happen.
Research efforts towards the relaunch of Cult centers started in the 3rd week of March almost as soon as all gyms were asked to shut down (Cult centers shut down on 14th March). We were clear that:
- A grave, new health/safety risk had emerged
- This new risk mandated a change in human interactions — with each other and with one’s surroundings
The immediate objective of our research was thus to form a body of knowledge that would allow a safe redesign of human-human and human-surroundings interactions inside Cult centers. A challenge we faced at this stage was a lack of precedent.
There were no existing best practices in place — so we had to create our own playbook of safety protocols that we hope will become an industry benchmark.
At the outset, we had to ensure that we used only reliable sources of information. We defined these as sources:
- Having a credible history of research, direct action, or organization, in the area where public health and study of infectious diseases overlap
- Having experience of dealing specifically with the SARS-Cov2, thereby being in a position to offer actionable information
The sources we chose based on the above criteria were:
Of course, a part of our study also involved understanding the virus itself — its construction, how it spreads, the conditions that allow it to flourish, and much more. Through our research, we laid out a plan to safely redesign and reopen our centers.
Further, we borrowed the 5S pillars of lean six sigma, and added a sixth S, namely, safety. The pillars are as follows:
- Sort: Keep only what is absolutely necessary in the centers
- Straighten: Arrange items to enable efficient workflows
- Shine: Ensure a clean worksite
- Standardize: Set up uniform standards across centers
- Sustain: Implement behaviors to maintain established standards over the long term
- Safety: Keep the space free of all hazards — ensuring it is as inhospitable/hostile to SARS-Cov2 as reasonably possible
In short, we put in place safety measures that centered around humans and human behavior, and their contact with their surroundings. The term contact didn’t just mean physical contact.
The term contact was defined as any process that leads to:
- Physical contact between persons
- Proximity of <1 meter between persons
- Shared physical contact of the same surfaces (e.g. lockers, workout area floor etc)
The process of reimagining our centers was completed in three phases:
- Phase 1 – What are the processes in a center where there is the slightest chance of contact? We went through every process and possible interaction to understand where contact could be eliminated or at least mitigated. We created a detailed list of possible human-human and human-surface interactions at the center — from touching the door knob at the entrance to physical posture corrections done by trainers.
- Phase 2 – What do we need to remove/modify in order to eliminate or mitigate contact? This was handled trough a detailed list of physical/non-physical modifications required at the facility and product
- Phase 3 – How will we implement these specific actions/modifications?
A special effort was made to stick to methods near the base of the ‘Control Hierarchy’ pyramid — a guiding set of principles commonly used to control exposure of workers to occupational hazards.
As a result of the above exercise, we made changes to our center design, processes and product.
Changes in the center
- Maintain social distancing: Ensure a 5.2 square meter per person space as against a government mandated 4 square meter space per person
- Ensure guided movement and batch isolation: Floors were marked to allow point-to-point movement and highlight waiting stations. Ensure there were 20 minutes every hour for batch isolation and center decontamination.
- Enable a contactless experience: This was done at various levels
- Provide separate workout stations
- Get customers to bring-their-own yoga mats and sippers
- Restrict the usage of showers and lockers
- Contactless attendance marking
- Facilitate round-the-clock air dilution and ventilation: Ensure Minimum 6 ACH (air changes per hour) for every center
- Implement best-in-class sanitization protocols: Hourly sanitization done using benzalkonium chloride 0.1% solution. We also used TiO2 nano-coating for surface decontamination
- Allocate dedicated workout stations: Guided access paths/circles were made to ensuring social distancing of 6 feet
- Enable share-less workouts: Fixed and dedicated equipment are provided for each slot with option of self sanitization. Members will be required to carry their own personal accessories like yoga mats (Bring Your Own Kit) while ensuring we also gave them an option to purchase accessories for use
- Monitor staff health and providing PPE, implementing an SoS system for medical emergencies:
- Center managers, trainers and housekeeping are equipped with protective gear (masks and shields)
- Body temperature and SpO2 (oximeter) are recorded before every shift
- SoS system has been implemented for reporting and escalation system for medical emergencies through safety & security helpline
- Emergency healthcare and testing assistance is made available for all employees
- Control access to centers and isolate batches:
- SpO2 (Oximeter), body temperature & Arogya Setu status is checked at entrance,
- Batches are isolated by creating 20 minutes gap between classes to allow for deep sanitization
- Ensure touch-free operations:
- Biometrics attendance is replaced with QR-based attendance
- Sanitization and washroom/center fittings are made touch-less
- Monitor possible breaches in adhering to new processes:
- Near real-time alert system is put in place for in-center process breaches with focus on severity;
- We are also working on AI enabled remote-audits of our centers
- Ready ourselves for post-COVID case responses:
- SoPs are in place for support actions and information flows to authorities
- Reduce class duration: 50 minute classes were reduced to 40 minutes of class time to allow for 20 minutes for sanitization and batch isolation
- Run centers at 50% capacity: While centers were run at lower capacity to allow for social distancing we also ensured we operated for longer hours
- Minimize equipment and accessories for workouts: We ensured that only equipment that are simple to clean were used in classes like S&C. We designed for contactless and self contained boxing classes, and customers are expected to bring their own yoga mats
- Limit usage and exposure: We limited the class booking window to 2 days. Further we also ensured back-to-back bookings were not possible, so that we could minimise exposure of the premises & customers for a prolonged time (especially in between classes)
- Ensuring optimal supply of classes: Centers were coupled together (within 3 km) in groups while planning the schedule to ensure that all formats were available across hours
This entire process involved a well-documented, gargantuan effort from the Operation Excellence, Facilities, Finance, Product, L&D, Customer EXperience, Training Ops, Scheduling Ops and Center Ops teams. These processes are now not only implemented at Cult centers but also at our partner gyms. Partner gym that can be accessed via Cult Pass were more than happy to join us due to the through safety measures we have been able to implement.
Thus, even though the government gave us the green signal to open all centers, we decided to take our time, be thorough, and open up only gradually. This ensured our processes were working well, and today, we have opened up 100+ centers, and will continue reopening other centers over time.