When you picture a typical work day filled with meetings, a walking meeting is not what first comes to mind. Chances are, you envision yourself sitting indoors, possibly at a conference table, while participants’ attention waxes and wane. For many of us the temptation to multitask is just too strong. Maybe some employees take notes (but also answer unrelated emails) or perhaps they try to discreetly send text messages. And when it comes down to it, no one is quite as engaged as you’d like them to be. Don’t blame yourself—blame the ordinary sit-down meeting that doesn’t rescue employees from their sedentary slump let alone allow them to get energized to amp up their creative side.
There’s a better way. A walking meeting—which is pretty much what it sounds like—lets you and your team rack up steps and take in fresh air while participating in the discussion. Here’s why it’s worth making walking meetings part of your corporate culture and how to do them right.
Why Walk and Talk?
A walking meeting might sound unconventional, and perhaps it is. But a number of health advocacy groups including the American Heart Association and Feet First in Seattle, support them. Some important reasons why:
It’s an easy way to increase physical activity.
Many office workers are dangerously sedentary, says cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., Director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. “People are driving to work, sitting at a desk, and then sitting in front of the TV when they get home. They’re sitting all day long, yet a sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity and, in turn, diabetes and heart disease.”
Walking meetings, alone, won’t solve the obesity crisis, yet they can have a substantial impact by increasing the amount of physical activity that white-collar workers get during the week. And workers are generally receptive to the change from traditional seated meetings.
It shows you’re serious about helping employees get healthy.
Many companies claim to prioritize employee health, but talking about it only goes so far, notes Steinbaum. Even if your company offers perks like healthy snacks and reduced or free gym membership, incorporating fitness into the workday by hosting walking meetings takes it many steps further (literally!).
“It’s not just hearsay—you’re actually implementing something,” says Steinbaum, “and the message [that you value health] starts to infiltrate the corporate culture.”
It fosters productivity and creativity in the workplace.
For starters, employees who know that fitness will be part of the workday are less apt to come in late or leave early in an attempt to make it to the gym. But getting the blood pumping—and walking outside, in particular—seems to stimulate the generation of unique ideas, according to researchers at Stanford University. In their study they note that walking is a “simple and robust solution” that increases creativity and physical activity.
Steinbaum isn’t surprised. She describes herself as a pacer—she often moves around while talking on the phone—and says that’s when inspiration often strikes.
“For some of us, there’s a flow of thought, a creativity, that happens while you’re being active,” she says.
Key Steps for Walking Meeting Success
Ready to give it a shot? While there isn’t a wrong way to host a walking meeting, following a few guidelines can help ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Ensure the Topic Matches the Format.
Walking meetings are great for general discussions and brainstorming sessions in which people are spewing out ideas. In this case, consider asking participants to spend some time at their desks immediately following the meeting to write down what was discussed and to generate additional ideas. On the flip side, walking meetings aren’t so great when topics call for reviewing complex charts or those that require copious note-taking throughout the session.
Edit your list of invitees.
If you need to address 200 people about the intricacies of your company’s retirement plan, that’s most likely not the best time to try a walking meeting. Walking meetings tend to be most effective when the group is on the smaller side—10 people, max.
“Think about when you go to a museum and take a tour,” says Steinbaum. “If the group gets too large you’re going to lose people, or some will have trouble hearing each other.”
Decide on location and plot your course.
Walking as you wander aimlessly is fine when you’re alone or chatting with a friend, but when you’re leading a work group plan exactly where you’re going and how long it should take. Choose a route that is relatively quiet (so you’re not shouting over traffic), accessible (paved paths are ideal), and that you can cover at a gentle pace during the allotted time (30-60 minutes is ideal). If you’re hoping to move through a specific agenda, try stopping at a few pre-planned locations to use those as natural points to transition from one sub-topic to the next.
Let participants know what to expect.
Not everyone likes surprises, and you want attendees to feel comfortable. Let the group know where you’ll be going, how long it will take and that it’s okay to wear comfortable shoes.
Ready, set, walk!
The only thing left is to get going. Consider soliciting feedback from employees after your first walking meeting and making tweaks accordingly.
To get more actionable ideas for creating a culture of workplace wellness—a move that attracts and retains engaged employees.