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Meet me in the parking lot: Walking meetings hit their stride

Ann Bednarz | Jan. 20, 2017
Walk-and-talk meetings can energise employees and boost creativity.

If a fraction of those sit-down meetings could be conducted on a walk, there are significant health benefits to be gained, researchers find.

Changing just one seated meeting per week at work into a walking meeting increased the weekly work-related physical activity levels of white-collar workers by 10 minutes, according to a study published by public health researchers with the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine (See: Opportunities for Increased Physical Activity in the Workplace: the Walking Meeting).

What good is 10 minutes? It can make a dent in recommended activity levels. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise to improve overall cardiovascular health. Often-cited research from Taiwan suggests that even 15 minutes of exercise a day can boost life expectancy by three years compared to an inactive lifestyle.

Plus, research shows walking can stimulate creativity. Stanford University researchers found that creativity levels are significantly higher for people who are walking compared to those who are sitting. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% when walking, according to a 2014 study authored by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz. (See: Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking)

Walking meetings can enable more engaged conversations and encourage greater rapport among participants, advocates say.

It’s a more casual way to talk about technical challenges, and it winds up improving workplace relations, says Zorah Fung, a software engineer at Sift Science. “Because the job is so technical and so much time is spent in code, taking walking meetings actually ends up helping with personal working relationships,” Fung says. “Getting a chance to talk in a casual way outside of the physical office generally develops a different kind of bond.”

Megan Bigelow agrees.

“Walking, by its nature, is more informal for one simple reason: When you are talking, you aren’t looking at each other. This allows people to speak more freely and openly because it removes the stress of eye contact,” says Bigelow, who leads the technical customer service team at Jama Software. “It also allows for people to feel more at ease because they are outside of the office setting, in the open air.”

Having a meeting away from computers can help focus talk on strategic issues rather than tactical details.

“I think the benefit of not having devices distract you while you are in meetings outweighs the cost of not having access to them,” says Bigelow, who has 30-minute one-on-one meetings with everyone on her team every other week. It’s an opportunity to ask how an individual feels about the work and any concerns they have. “It allows you to candidly talk through any issues raised,” Bigelow says. “I find that asking for progress on specific items is better served for non-meeting time and/or reliance on tools such as JIRA or Trello.”


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