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Walking Meetings: How and Why to Walk the Talk

Two colleagues in one of their walking meetings

Walking meetings have gained popularity in recent years. Nilofer Merchant’s TEDTalk brought the topic to the forefront when she explained the benefits of walking in a world where we sit for an average of 9.3 hours per day. Steve Jobs was also a fan of these types of meetings. Let’s consider the benefits of walking meetings and how you can make them an effective alternative to traditional meetings.

What is a walking meeting?

Like it sounds, it’s an alternative to a typical meeting such as around a conference table or one-on-one for coffee. Although you don’t use whiteboards and other technology, you’re still able to discuss ideas and issues, and make decisions. Depending on where you’re located, the meeting could be along city streets or through a park.

Health benefits

This is a key benefit of walking meetings. Research has shown that workers sitting more than six hours per day are less likely to live as long as people who sit less than three hours per day. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, walking side by side with colleagues or clients is good for you. We all know the benefits of physical activity, so this is a way to improve your health with less time sitting while getting some fresh air and an energy boost. 

Walking in the sunlight will also increase vitamin D levels, which will boost immunity and mood. One study revealed that people deficient in vitamin D are 1.77 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19. Walking and talking can also help with time management if you can’t seem to find the time to exercise. 

Check out Work Burnout: Symptoms and Prevention Tips for SME Owners and Tips for Improving Work-Life Balance for more ideas for improving workplace health.

Boost creativity and engagement with walking meetings

Being consistently in the same environment, such as a conference room, can hamper our creative juices. One survey found that walking meeting participants were 5.25 per cent more likely to report being creative at their jobs than those remaining indoors. Other research points to the boost in creativity resulting from walking. Participants also were 8.5 per cent more likely to report high levels of employee engagement. Considering that walking meetings don’t cost a cent, they can provide a great return in enhancing creativity and keeping your people happy, engaged, and productive at work.

Encourage open communication

If done right, walking meetings eliminate the distraction of devices, so participants are more likely to focus on what’s being discussed. Also, walking side by side minimises hierarchical relationships, promoting open communication between employees and managers. Participants in research on walking meetings said that “walking meetings break the level of formality” and have different expectations than meetings held in an office meeting room.

Tips for initiating walking meetings

With so many benefits, walking and talking seems like the right choice, but there are things to keep in mind before you introduce walking meetings.

Set the stage beforehand

It’s best to let people know in advance so that they can be prepared with the right footwear, and know what to expect. It’s often helpful to set ground rules, such as turning mobile phones to silent mode to avoid distractions.

If you want to plan how much ground to cover, it can be worth getting an idea of your route beforehand.  Consider that the average walking speed is 5 kilometres per hour, and ensure you have enough time to get back before the meeting is over.

Choose the types of meetings that are conducive to walking

Some meetings require visuals, such as discussing data on a spreadsheet, or design concepts. Walking meetings are most suitable for discussing big picture ideas and challenges that don’t require detail. It could be to discuss an overall strategy or for ideation and brainstorming, as opposed to the details about how these will be implemented. 

Also, the maximum number in a walking meeting is 4 to 5 people. If you have a larger group that needs to meet, try having a standing meeting to change it up a bit. Even better, if you have a park nearby, hold your meeting there.

Choose the right place and time

The first thing in the morning might not be the right time for walking meetings. Consider them for afternoons when staff need an energy boost after lunch. Also, avoid times when footpaths or too crowded or noisy to communicate effectively.

Take a collaborative approach

After trying walking meetings, get feedback from your team members on the experience. What did they like and not like about it? This will help you adjust to working walking meetings into your long-term work practices to reap the benefits.

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