“Let’s walk!” – The advantages of walking meetings

Whereas not every important issue in a workplace will suit a walking meeting format, it is an incredibly practical way of using the most in demand resource available to us – time.

The concept of walking meetings may conjure up mental images reminiscent of “The West Wing,” with harsh talking men in suits drinking take away coffees while barking demands at their PA’s, but in reality, they may actually be the most productive use of time.

Steve Jobs was a massive advocate of the walking meeting, preferring to meet people for the first time on foot. His biographer even said that the best method to extract information from Jobs was by taking a walk with him. Yet, despite Jobs’ advocacy, and the fact that businesses and individuals are becomingly increasingly aware of the benefits of short breaks from our desks, the idea of working-on-the-go still hasn’t really taken hold.

Well, that’s a shame, because not only are walking meetings conducive to honest exchanges of information, and a clearly more effective use of our time than traditional sit-down meetings, but research has also found that the actual physical act of walking promotes an increase in creative thinking.

Therefore, not only are we being efficient with time, we would also be fuelling the production of ideas!

In fact, the benefits of engaging in walking meetings are plentiful; to begin with, there are few more daunting scenarios than presenting an idea in a meeting while countless sets of eyes burn their way into your soul. Psychologically speaking, we produce better ideas while not engaging in direct eye contact as the human brain is too tuned in to the reactions of the person we are speaking to in order to think clearly. However, in a walking meeting, you are conducting a discursive side by side with your colleagues or employer, giving you the chance to think clearly and accurately. Walking side by side also reduces hierarchical distinctions, putting employee’s at ease and helping those neurons to fire freely.

Then there’s the clear physical benefits of walking meetings; we spend 75% of our working hours sitting, and walking is a form of exercise that most people can partake in which can be performed at any time of the day. It increases the release of endorphins, the happiness hormone, leading to a greater sense of well-being overall, not just in work. In fact, the Centre’s for Disease Control and Prevention promote practicing moderate exercise for at least 15 minutes a day in order to increase life expectancy up to three years.

There you have it –  walking meetings will not only increase productivity, but they’ll actually help you to live longer.

Walking meetings are so in trend at the moment, that the Harvard Business Review took it upon themselves to conduct a survey of the benefits associated with the walking-and-talking approach to productivity.

After surveying approximately 150 adults, they found that those who participate in walking meetings reported a 5.25% increase in creativity in their jobs than those who do not. Furthermore, people who engage in walking meetings are also more likely to report a subsequent increase in their levels of engagement.

Well then, it’s quite well established that walking meetings are a no-brainer in terms of efficiency, yet most businesses still aren’t choosing to engage in them. Perhaps if given some rough guidelines, we can break down the potential mental barriers to engaging in meetings of this format.

Top tips for conducting a walking meeting

  • To start, aim for a One-to-one format. When walking side by side it may be difficult to determine who may be speaking and when. Keep the format simple by conducting person to person walking meetings which reduce the chance of confusion and increases the likelihood of having opinions heard.
  • Review a brief agenda or any relevant documents in advance. Simply because it isn’t a traditional meeting style, does not mean that all meeting rules should be thrown out the window! As in all other circumstances, provide the topics up for discussion in advance in order to allow people to prepare their thoughts. To help you remember the agenda whilst you’re walking, make a few simple notes on your phone that you can access quickly whilst on the go to help jog your memory.
  • Know your route. If you only have 20 minutes for the meeting, then plan a walk that only takes 20 minutes. If you end up getting lost en-route, then this somewhat counterbalances the efficiency of the meeting, as well as disrupts the flow of conversation when you have to check Google maps on your phone. However, if you have a little more time available then it may be worth setting off without a set route in mind. Researchers at the National Taiwan University conducted a study designed to measure creativity on a walk within a set boundary and found that the ones who meandered came up with significantly more ideas than the linear walkers. The main crux is that if you do choose to meander, you will likely need to have a final destination in mind.
  • Allow for thoughtfulness. By this, I mean that silences are not always a bad thing. So often we feel pressured to fill silences, so instead of responding purely for the sake of it, allow yourself to embrace the mindfulness of the walk. Who knows what ideas may form as a result?
  • Follow-up after the meeting with any notes on the topics discussed (yes, just because they were discussed in transit doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do minutes afterwards). You could choose to record the meeting using your phone if you worry that you may not remember all the topics that were discussed.
  • Postpone decisions. This may not suit everyone’s style, but many people may feel more comfortable making large scale decisions in a more formal environment, where there are more heads present in order to offer alternative solutions. The walking meeting is great for coming up with ideas for later discussion however.

Whereas not every important issue in a workplace will suit a walking meeting format, it is an incredibly practical way of using the most in demand resource available to us – time. So, get those trainers out of the rucksack under your desk, and start limbering up – we’re going for a walk.

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