What it Takes to Run an Affiliate Remotely

March 12, 2020 started off as an exciting day for me and my Box, All Level CrossFit in Windsor in Ontario, Canada.  

I was headed to the Atlas Games in Montreal, Quebec, to coach one of athletes in her first big competition. By 4 p.m. on the same day, my world changed. What happened next can be best summed up by the great modern philosopher, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “This is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down.”

Up until that moment, COVID-19 was a far-off disease we were aware of, but didn’t think would soon come to challenge the very existence of my business and change the way we live.

By 5 p.m. enough news was starting to trickle in that had me concerned. Schools were closing, large gatherings were being shut down. Everything was changing so quickly. I needed to stop and gather my thoughts.

By 6 p.m. I had cut my trip short, holed up in a hotel and drafted an email to our members and Coaches about the new protocols we would put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Handwashing was now written into the lesson plans, once after the whiteboard brief, once after the warm-up and once at the end of the WOD. Disinfectant wipes were everywhere and everyone was told to be diligent about wiping down any equipment that was touched. High fives were replaced with elbow bumps and “feet” fives.  

By March 13, I was back in Windsor, Ontario, and by March 14, I was back on the floor doing what I love: coaching and running an Affiliate. We were the hedge against disease that Coach Glassman had talked about. We were building stronger humans and keeping people’s minds off the unfolding pandemic by cranking the tunes, working hard and sweating out our stresses.  

It was during this time I began to have an uneasy feeling. At any one time during the day, we could have up to 75 people onsite. That many people in one building with sweat and heavy breathing didn’t seem safe with COVID-19 looming.  

I wrestled with the idea that our CrossFit Box could become ground zero for the spread of the virus in our small city. On the other hand, we couldn’t afford to shut down. We definitely don’t have the cash reserves to endure an extended closure with a significant loss of revenue. It weighed heavily on me. 

After much research and many conversations — both internal and external — my wife Grace gave me the strength to make up my mind. She said, “I trust you to make the right decision.”

On Sunday, March 15, 2020 at 7 p.m. I decided to close All Level CrossFit for a minimum of two weeks until we had more information on the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. We were the first gym in our area to close. Our staff and members were shocked, but very understanding. We have many first responders at our Box, and I felt helping them flatten the curve, helping the elderly and those with underlying health problems was more important than staying open. 

Now what? The gym was closed, but I knew I had to continue to provide value for my members or it might not open again. I started research right away and saw gyms facing mandatory closures in other parts of the world had begun to use remote classes as a way to stay in touch and continue to provide fitness, community and contact to their members. So that’s what we did. 

We jumped onto Zoom and did our first class at 6 a.m. on March 16. It was sparsely attended and consisted of Coach Zach holding an iPhone at arm’s length while I coached.  

Although a work in progress, I could still see our athletes and make cues to them specifically. We still did a question of the day during our mobility and the comradery of a CrossFit class was still very much there. We ran four classes that day and learned a little bit each time: 

  • We learned muting our participants’ mics was a must. 
  • We learned calling out the time was very important. 
  • We learned we could upgrade our equipment to an iPad and then again to a MacBook and project everyone’s smiling faces onto our big screen TV.  
  • We added a clock to the set up. 
  • We added a portable whiteboard. 

We also added specialty classes: a remote mobility class, a remote spin class and remote yoga class. We started an online Lifestyle Challenge through Beyond the Whiteboard that combined nutrition, sleep, mobility, exercise and mindset. 

We offered prizes from within our community: Coffee from 14th Coffee Co.; protein powder from Great North Supplements; personal training from our Coaches. We enrolled in ActiveLife Professional’s Online Coach Awareness Seminar so we can do remote one-on-one assessments and offer prescriptive programs for free. We started loaning out equipment to our members so they could WOD with us at home. We cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned — then organized and cleaned some more.  

In short, we went to work providing value and service to our customers. We found out some people prefer remote classes over live ones. They love eliminating the commute. They love working out in their living rooms with their kids and dogs and in their bare feet. They love waking up three minutes before class and not being late. They love catching up with their community while social distancing and still feeling connected.  

We realized with remote coaching we can offer more specialty classes without moving around our current schedule or having to add more hours to our days. What emerged from the most difficult business decision I have ever made became an opportunity.

Remote classes will be a part of what we do in the future. Better initial assessments for our onboarding process will become the norm. More one-on-one correspondence with our members will become routine. Better cleaning protocols will be instituted. We will learn and grow and get better. This is a challenge and we are up for it. This situation may be far from over, but I truly feel when we emerge from this, we will genuinely be stronger, better prepared and more robust as a business.     

John Mack is a father, husband, Affiliate owner. He has six years of coaching and running an Affiliate under his belt. Education includes: CrossFit L2, Adaptive Cert, Aerobic Capacity Cert, Mobility Cert. He has a Bachelor's in History from University of Windsor. John is an entrepreneur, dreamer, and a lover of dogs and hamburgers.