You're in conference room 2A at 3:00 p.m. You have your weekly 1:1 meeting with your manager, where you’ll sit next to the whiteboard while hearing about upcoming projects, talking about accomplished tasks and anything else your boss wants to discuss. Just as you’re about to head over to the room, your boss says she didn’t have time to grab coffee earlier and asks if you could walk with her to Starbucks.
Walking meetings, such as this example, have gained popularity in recent years. Steve Jobs used to swear by walking meetings, and many famous entrepreneurs make it part of their routine due to increased productivity and health benefits. Not convinced or not sure where to start? Below are reasons why walking meetings are beneficial and ways you can incorporate them into your office routine.
What’s a walking meeting?
A walking meeting is a meeting that takes place during a walk instead of in an office, boardroom or coffee shop. There are many visionaries — Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama — who believe(d) in the power of walking meetings. Walker Issacson, author of biography “Steve Jobs,” describes how Jobs requested that they take a walk together to discuss the book, which Issacson later learned was his preferred method of having a serious conversation.
Another tech powerhouse, Zuckerberg takes people he wants to hire on a trail near Facebook headquarters to a gorgeous spot overlooking the Valley. Nilofer Merchant, corporate director and ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the world's leading thinkers, talks about her transition from office meetings to walking meetings. She used to think that her need to fulfill daily obligations and the need to take care of her health were conflicting. Once she began walking meetings, she saw how she could be healthy and productive, encouraging out of the box thinking.
5 reasons to schedule walking meetings
Walking meetings are not solely in the tech industry as you can adopt them in any office setting. There are multiple scientific studies and anecdotal evidence that suggests the benefits of walking meetings, outlined below.
1. They improve creativity.
Harvard Business Review surveyed a population of approximately 150 U.S working adults about their work habits, and found that walking meeting participants are 5.25% more likely to report being creative at their jobs than those who don’t participate. Ted Eytan, Medical Director of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health, states that our brains are more relaxed during walks due to the release of certain chemicals.
These chemicals aid executive function, which governs how we focus on tasks and deal with unexpected events. To plan a good walking meeting, check that the weather is appropriate. Also consider a destination point as deciding on a place provides more incentive to go for a walk.
2. They break down barriers.
Dr. Eytan believes that walking meetings break down barriers between supervisor and subordinate, leading to better employee engagement. He sees walking meetings as a micro version of the bonding coworkers experience traveling together on business trips. David Haimes, a senior director of product development at Oracle, has experienced this bonding firsthand with his team, “The fact that we are walking side-by-side means the conversation is more peer-to-peer than when I am in my office and they are across a desk from me, which reinforces the organizational hierarchy.”
To help start conversation during walking meetings, employers and employees can ask about past weekend activities or future weekend plans. Just note that these conversations should remain workplace appropriate, but having this conversation can establish a more relaxed setting while easing into work topics.
3. They boost employee health.
Needless to say, walking meetings allow employees to integrate physical activity throughout their workday. Overall, this yields improved health, lower health care costs, and a lower number of sick days. If you choose a destination for your walk, avoid making the destination a source of unneeded calories as that is counterproductive to improving employee health. That doesn’t mean that food destinations are off-limits, but if you consistently order a mocha frappuccino at your bakery destination, that’s 400 calories that wouldn’t otherwise be consumed.
4. They increase employee engagement.
Research by fitness experts shows that moving around helps office employees think better. Jack Groppel, vice president of a consulting group owned by Johnson & Johnson, says that moving around triggers a slight raise in heart rate, so more oxygen is getting to the brain. In his study, he states that, "After 90 days of doing this, people felt increased amounts of energy, they felt increased focus, they felt improved engagement." To put into practice the findings, he has advocated for a program that requires standing up and walking around in the office for one to two minutes every half hour.
5. They require little to no cost.
If there’s ever a reason to adopt walking meetings, it’s that they’re little to no cost to the company. The costs associated with regularly participating in walking meetings is next to nothing. Walking meetings are not breaks from work, but are meetings that would have taken place regardless of whether they were held in an office. They’re a simple and cost-effective way to increase creativity and employee engagement.
Additional benefits of walking meetings
Walking meetings are beneficial for employers and employees, by increasing creativity and engagement. If you needed more reasons to schedule a walking meeting, below are additional benefits:
- Stronger personal connections
- Minimized differences between staff
- Increased collaboration
- Higher employee energy
How to integrate walking meetings into company culture
While there are many benefits to walking meetings, sometimes they can be difficult to implement if they’re not part of the company culture. Merchant has described that sitting has become the “smoking of our generation”, meaning it’s the cultural norm to sit for long periods of time, so deviating from that norm is weird.
In general, leadership has to take an active role to endorse moving around during the workday. For example, Groppel says that for the concept of stretching throughout the day, "leaders have to be very involved, giving permission and role modeling them." Here are a few tips that will make integrating walking meetings into the company culture easier.
1. Don’t surprise colleagues or clients with walking meetings.
It’s fine to suggest a walk as long as it’s clear that you’ll be fine with a “maybe next time.” But if you’re planning ahead, have the courtesy to notify them in advance. This allows them to arrive dressed for comfort, perhaps with appropriate shoes.
2. Schedule them during a good time.
The best time for a walking meeting is right before lunch to address the mid-morning slump or late afternoon for a burst of energy.
3. Stick to small groups.
You don’t want to cause a scene on the sidewalk or have it be more difficult to communicate than in an office room. Haimes recommends a maximum of three people for a walking meeting.
Overall, walking meetings can be productive, cost-effective for companies and allow staff to get exercise.