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The walking meeting

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, the ‘walking meeting’ – as the title would suggest – is a meeting that takes place while walking, be that with clients, colleagues or anyone else, to discuss matters relating to work. It is held outside where possible (or under cover if the weather isn’t good), instead of sitting in a meeting room or at a desk. Generally it would involve no more than 3 people as 10 people walking down a pavement trying to hear each other probably wouldn’t be that successful!

Is it a modern day fad? Not at all! The benefits have been seen for centuries with just some of the well-known enthusiasts who have practiced this art being Aristotle who taught students whilst walking, Sigmund Freud who ran consultations with patients on the go and more recently Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who were known to meet people for the first time whilst taking a stroll, all of whom have stated the benefits of doing so.

We know that nowadays, we tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle due to technological advances and it is well documented that there are significant negative effects on our health if we sit for prolonged periods of time – even if we exercise! The introduction of fitness watches to prompt us to ‘get moving’ every half hour or so work for a period of time but then the novelty seems to wear off or something important stops us from being able to get up and move around. It’s so hard to find time to get those legs moving during a working period even though we know it's good for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Some businesses have in more recent years started to encourage walking meetings as they try and balance their employees’ wellbeing with work and have started to see the benefits on their employees’ creativity and free-flow of ideas. When you combine all of these, they cause a reduction in stress and an increase in happiness and productivity at work. What’s not to like?

These walks can be anything from a trip to the offsite coffee shop or a wander around the park, with meandering walks having actually shown as driving better creativity than when sticking to a prescribed route. The best walking meetings are those that focus on developing ideas or coaching, whereas it’s suggested that if you need convergence on a single consensus then staying put has been shown to be the better option – although this can be done standing up rather than in the customary table and meeting room scenario.

Working in lockdown

In lockdown, virtual meetings using video calling apps have become a part of daily life, which has helped us to continue to keep in touch and try and maintain a level of work normality. In some instances we have learned a lot more about those we work with, laughing at frozen faces, seeing colleagues’ interesting choices of décor (or home office attire), pets leaping into the frame and children demanding attention. However, mentally, this has been a very intense way of working and physically, it has had an impact on the average daily step count. According to The Society of Occupational Medicine, our ‘passive exercise’ has decreased by 50% due to people not commuting, walking around the office or going out to places they would do in normal life.

People are of course actively making decisions to put aside an hour or so a day for conscious exercise in a number of guises, from running to online personal trainer sessions, to gardening. These are all beneficial but they do require a conscious decision to plan for dedicated exercise time outside of working hours’ and as we already know, sitting for long periods of time – even with periods of exercise – can still have a negative impact on your health. 

So it makes sense to consider the ‘walking meeting’ option now more than ever – if you have a video call scheduled, take it on the move. Fresh air, exercise, creative thinking, destressing… It seems to be a no brainer. You could even consider having a meeting while on a bike or a treadmill – Google, Microsoft and the hotel chains Hyatt and Marriott, are among just some of the companies using treadmills whilst working.

 In conclusion

  • Walking meetings are not a fad and should be considered as an option for when we are back to working in offices

  • The anecdotal evidence for doing this is well documented

  • Stop that stigma, it’s not about taking a break. It’s just a different way of having a meeting – leaders need to take the initiative and support this approach

  • As we continue to be encouraged to safely go outside during lockdown, use it to your advantage – stay safe and be physically and mentally healthy

  • Book that meeting, pick up the phone and start walking

Watch this compelling TED talk by Nilofer Merchant, who is a strong advocate for taking more walking meetings. Taking care of your body AND being more productive no longer have to be in conflict with one another. For a healthier, happier life Merchant takes meetings and clocks up somewhere between 20 and 30 miles a week, proving that literally getting out of the box can make you more productive. Watch it on»