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Firms embrace healthier practices; Innovative efforts focus on wellness

Samantha O'Lenick keeps a pair of tennis shoes stowed under the desk in her office -- for company meetings. A dozen times a week, O'Lenick kicks off her heels, laces up her tennis shoes, gathers her staff and hits the streets.

Since January, O'Lenick, director of public relations at Florida Hospital in Orlando, has held all her staff meetings on the move in fresh air. When O'Lenick informed her staff that all future meetings would convene on the sidewalk instead of a conference room, they said, " 'You've got to kidding,' " O'Lenick said. "I told them I was serious. People really love it now."

O'Lenick is getting good mileage from her mobile meetings -- about 36 on the highway in miles walked per week. With that she gets greater staff camaraderie and brisk meetings.

"You get to know people so much better out in the elements than sitting across from them at a table," she said.

Walking meetings and their stationary cousin, standing meetings, are among the innovative wrinkles slowly transforming the American workplace. Credit a host of catalysts, including a growing aversion to the rigid "Mad Men" corporate culture and company wellness initiatives that improve worker health and productivity while lowering health-care costs.

FruitGuys is a California company whose only business is shipping fresh fruit to thousands of companies nationwide, which offer it free to employees as an alternative to break-room staples such as cookies, doughnuts and vending-machine snacks that do more to raise blood sugar and pressure than productivity.

For the past year, FruitGuys has been delivering weekly to the JetBlue support center near Orlando International Airport, where 320 people work.

Amanda Carlo, work-life analyst for JetBlue, ticked off a selection of fruit offered to employees in the break rooms.

"Apples, bananas, oranges, grapefruit -- sometimes mangoes, kiwi, cherries." It all gets eaten, she said, adding, "Sometimes [the employees] are there waiting for it."

Nutritional snacks and moving meetings help keep workers fit, but some workplace innovations aren't just about the health benefits.

At Row Sham Bow, a developer of social-network games in downtown Orlando with two dozen employees, the traditional table meeting is not an option, for good reason: There are no conference tables.

"Every evening, people stand up in a circle and talk for a minute about what they did that day," said office manager Soledad Hasan. "I come from a law firm, which is very stringent. This is completely opposite. This is a trusting, no-ego, team-playing atmosphere."

Anissa Rogers, 40, doesn't have to worry about being a team player. She works from her Lake Mary home as a recruiter for pharmaceutical companies, spending most of the day on the computer. But she's walking the whole time and facing a window on the world.

"It's as if I'm at the park taking a nice stroll," she said.

The simulated bliss is achieved through use of a TrekDesk, a portable, kidney-shaped surface that fits over a treadmill, allowing the user to conduct business without breaking stride.

A competitive bodybuilder, Rogers calculates she burns 126 calories an hour. She said being upright all day has improved her posture. Rogers has no regrets about burning through $400 for the TrekDesk.

"Honestly, I feel energized."