June 24, 2016

Are ‘walking meetings’ the answer to higher levels of engagement?

Socrates did it, as did Aristotle, Hegel, Kant and numerous other philosophers throughout history. It’s not just philosophers or figures from the past that are proponents though. Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama also do it. Do what? Walk, while thinking and talking.

There are obvious health benefits to be had from walking and talking – as opposed to talking while sitting – but there are other benefits too. Another philosopher, this time Friedrich Nietzsche, once wrote: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

As a result, there is a growing trend towards what is commonly called walking meetings or ‘walk and talk’. People – whether it’s politicians, philosophers, entrepreneurs or just ordinary office workers – are coming out of their workplace environments and coffee shops and holding meetings in the great outdoors instead, while taking a stroll.

They are doing it in order to get healthy and in order to spend time away from their desks, from screens and all the distractions of modern day working life. They are also doing it in order to boost the creative juices.

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. Its research, which encompassed roughly 150 American working adults, also found that those participating in walking meetings were 8.5% more likely to report high levels of engagement.

Business innovator, Nilofer Merchant, is certainly a massive fan of walking meetings. So much so that in 2013 she gave a TED talk called ‘Got a meetings? Take a walk

Merchant said she happened upon the benefits of walking meetings by accident. “Someone invited me to a meeting, but couldn’t manage to fit me in to a regular sort of conference room meeting, and said, “I have to walk my dogs tomorrow. Could you come then?”

Initially, she was taken aback but that first walking meeting really triggered something for Merchant and she now clocks up 20-30 miles each week doing walking meetings. In her TED talk, Merchant talks about the health benefits of these walking meetings – the average office worker spends 9.3 hours every day sitting. But she also talks about the creative benefits.

“There’s this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking. Whether it’s nature or the exercise itself, it certainly works. You’ll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking, and in the way that you do, you’ll bring into your life an entirely new set of ideas.”

We’ve all heard – and maybe followed – the advice for parents to broach tricky subjects with their children while walking or driving or performing some kind of task. It enables conversation to flow more easily, without the intensity of sitting down face to face. It’s same with walking meetings.

Some people use walking meetings to tackle difficult conversations. Walking and talking in the open air breaks down some of the formalities of the office and can release tension. It also breaks down barriers and hierarchical structures.

These walking meetings don’t need to be restricted to just two people – they can include several people, allowing participants to be very fluid about contributing to different conversations.

It can also just be a very nice way to spend time with colleagues and business partners – a healthy way to build healthy relationships.