Walking meetings come with more than just health benefits.
There is a growing trend to get healthy and spend time away from desks, screens and all the distractions of modern day working life but are there benefits, beyond the obvious, to be had from walking meetings?
Yesterday, ironically whilst I was sat in a meeting, I was introduced to the concept of walking meetings. Not something I’d ever heard of before, but something which caught my attention and motivated me to do a bit of research.
It is already a trendy topic among modern business leaders. Steve Jobs was apparently known for having walking meetings with his employees and the likes of Barack Obama and Richard Branson are also known to be big fans of the “walk and talk” philosophy.
In principle, it does what it says on the tin, it’s a meeting you have whilst you walk, but it was the associated benefits of this simple yet seemingly effective approach to meetings which sparked my interest.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
In her TEDTalk ‘Got a meeting? Take a walk’, Nilofer Merchant likened sitting to “the smoking of our generation.” We are all aware that smoking is bad for us – indeed that it may dramatically shorten our lives, but the health risks of inactivity means a sedentary lifestyle or “sitting disease” as it’s now been coined by the scientific community is now one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. According to the British Psychological Society the average office worker spends an astonishing 5.41 hours per day chained to their desk, so it’s no surprise that 64% of us are overweight.
Of course, there are obvious health benefits to be had from walking meetings. It’s not rocket science, and we all know we should move more and sit less, but despite that, one in three adults worldwide fails to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week. There have been attempts in recent years to increase movement in the office workforce. The introduction of standing desks for example, are a step in the right direction; and the advent of wearable tech now allows for comfortable and easy-to-wear devices that help nudge us throughout the day to spend less time sitting. But they don’t give our mind and body the stimulation we get from fresh air and moving our bodies. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1889) wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”.
Research carried out by Harvard Business Review found that people who participate in walking meetings are 5.25% more likely to report being creative in their jobs than those who do not. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that walking meetings can also lead to more honest exchanges with employees and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings. Dr Ted Eytan, supports this evidence by explaining that our brains are more relaxed during walks due to the release of certain chemicals. This aids executive function, which governs how we focus on tasks and deal with unforeseen events, among other things.
Of course, not all meetings are suitable for walking meetings but if you’re unsure where to start it seems the best walking meetings are the ones where colleagues are conferring on decisions or exploring possible solutions. The $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp for example, occurred after Jan Koum, one of the co-founders had several walking meetings with the Facebook CEO according to Bloomberg.
So, the next time you’re planning a meeting I urge you to consider some of the benefits to be had from a walking meeting, here are 7 from Peter Economy:
- Walking meetings are more creative: Researchers at Stanford University found that the creative output of people increases by an average of 60 percent when they are walking. Indoor walks were found to be just as effective for boosting creativity as outdoor walks.
- Walking meetings are better for you: According to Nilofer Merchant, “sitting is the smoking of our generation.” Walking meetings get you out of your chair, they get you moving, and–if you take them outside of our building–they get you some much needed fresh air and sunlight.
- Walking meetings tear down walls between management and workers: Says Western Union CEO, Hikmet Ersek–a big fan of walking meetings–“People become much more relaxed, and they talk from their hearts if you go for a walk with them. And they get to the point they want to make much more quickly.”
- Walking meetings improve energy and engagement: The Wellness & Prevention group of Johnson & Johnson has been doing research on the advantages of walking meetings. According to VP Jack Groppel, “In the studies that we did, after 90 days of doing [walking meetings], people felt increased amounts of energy, they felt increased focus, they felt improved engagement.”
- Walking meetings are better for communication: Assuming you avoid distractions by leaving your smartphone in your pocket or purse where it belongs, walking meetings are much more natural and focused on the topics at hand. According to neuroscientist, Andrew Tate, the increased blood flow to your brain “…helps you express those ideas more fluently and helps you communicate with coworkers.”
- Walking meetings outdoors make employees happier: Scientists at the UK’s University of Essex found that the mood and sense of well-being of people is boosted significantly with as little as 5 minutes of outdoor exercise.
- Walking meetings could save your life: According to researchers, just 30 minutes of walking each day can lead to a dramatic reduction in the risk of dementia, breast and colon cancer, and heart disease. If that’s not reason enough for taking your meetings for a walk, then I don’t know what is.
In conclusion, it’s probably appropriate for me to say I should “walk the talk” as it were, and show my commitment to the cause. Whilst I don’t think it’s possible or practical to commit to walking meetings by default, I most certainly will be trading some of my meetings for walking meetings to get those creative juices flowing.