The best ideas are often the most simple. This is true in the case of Nilofer Merchant, a Silicon Valley business innovator, whose TED Talk about walking meetings offered one of the most profound yet straightforward corporate wellness solutions. In a corporate world, where the effects of sitting eight hours a day is compared to those of smoking cigarettes, embracing this simple idea makes perfect sense.
Merchant's fondness of walking meetings was born out of her own health frustrations. She felt that she couldn't get enough exercise in her day and often had to choose between getting things done or getting healthier.
Employees working at desk jobs all across America share this dissatisfaction - it's difficult to work eight hours a day and muster up the energy to hit the gym after work or wake up for yoga before sunrise. The walking meeting offers a way to multitask, giving employees the ability to exercise their bodies, minds and spirit while still accomplishing important tasks.
What is a Walking Meeting?
In a nutshell, the walking meeting is an active replacement for the typical one-on-one cup of coffee or conference room chat. Instead of sitting still, the participants are able to add anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour of physical activity to their day simply by taking a stroll. The benefits aren't confined to the body, however.
Proponents of walking meetings suggest that they enhance creativity and problem-solving skills, resolve conflicts, and build social skills. It allows employees to engage both the body and mind and results in a positive working spirit. The time that staff spends working outside on a walk also saves office resources, putting the business solidly on the path to becoming more sustainable and green.
Consider the current environment format of a typical corporate meeting. Often, they're held in closed-off conference rooms with fluorescent lighting, a setting that isn't designed to energize the participants. Employees sit around a table and primarily engage with their smartphones or tablets, sometimes taking notes but often being distracted by the same technology that is supposed to make them more productive.
The meeting agenda is loosely followed, conversations are scattered and the participants seem drained and disengaged. With a walking meeting, employees are physically moving in a bright, naturally lit environment. Conversations are shorter and more concise, and participants are engaged in the activity and aren't sitting and staring at their smartphone screens.
Of course, a walking meeting can't be all things to all people. It's likely not the way to go for a yearly shareholders meeting, and is typically much more difficult for larger group sizes. It is, however, the go-to suggestion for one-on-one meetings, status updates, brainstorming sessions and more informal gatherings of small groups.
Tips for Your Next Walking Meeting
- Use a park or outdoor setting whenever possible.
- Ask participants to turn off their cell phones before the meeting begins.
- Consider grabbing coffee to go or bringing a water bottle.
- Try holding walking meetings in the afternoon, when employees' energy levels are lowest. The fresh air will revive them!
- Avoid noisy roads or crowded areas.
- If the group size of is six or more, participants will likely have to deal with multiple side conversations. This is fine for brainstorming or problem solving, but they need to stop and gather back up as a group to keep the meeting productive.
- Plan indoor meetings in the office space, or have a local route planned in the event of bad weather.
- Set a goal for walking meetings each week. Suggest replacing weekly status updates with supervisors with a walking meeting and build up to more frequent strolls.
- Employees should consider purchasing a pedometer or wearable device to track their steps. They'll see how much additional physical activity they'll get just by having a few walking meetings a week!
- Suggest that workers wear comfortable shoes to work or keep a pair at their desk for impromptu meetings.
- Plot out a few walking routes that work out to the typical length of company meetings. Consider paths that take 15, 30 and 60 minutes to complete.
- If the staff spends a lot of time on the phone, suggest that employees forward calls to their cell and use that verbal meeting time to pace/walk around instead of sitting at their desks.
- As with any meeting, facilitators should still send out a formal agenda to keep everyone on track.
- If it seems beneficial, suggest participants take a digital recorder (or just use an iPhone app) to tape the meeting.
Regardless of whether walking meetings become a key part of the company culture or just a way for employees to get away from their desk for a few moments, take the first step today and break away from the boardroom.