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Walking Meetings: The Future of Safely Collaborating

How to increase your creativity, productivity, and wellbeing at work.

  • Workplaces are beginning to support walking meetings — when you move outside, phone a colleague, talk, and walk.
  • Walking meetings have many health benefits, including increasing creativity by 81-100%.
  • Some of the positive effects of walking meetings can be seen in just a five-minute walk.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us rethink where and how we do our work. For some, our “office” is now anywhere and everywhere. A study released in May 2020 shared that more than 74% of CEOs will be allowing remote work for their staff into the future as they have seen productivity maintained and engagement improved.

iStock/Vadim_Key
Walking Meetings
Source: iStock/Vadim_Key

But what happens when you or your team feels isolated, burnt out, or disconnected, and virtual engagement activities just aren’t cutting it? When that happens, it’s time to put on your walking shoes.

Walking meetings have emerged as both a productive and healthy solution to combat the challenges facing workers during this pandemic.

A study released in 2017 noted that sedentary work for employees is literally killing them, and coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking." At that time, most work environments responded with offering standing desks; however, as studies continued, it became apparent that just standing was not enough. We need to move.

“Movement and the act of getting out from behind your desk are critical for improved health, so workplaces are evolving their roles to support their employees through activities of the job,” says Lorissa MacAllister, president and founder of Enviah, a consulting firm that focuses on design and wellness. “Being in a quiet location is helpful when doing focused work. When being creative or collaborative, consider switching to a walking meeting. This is the future of workplaces today and into tomorrow.”

The pandemic has provided the opportunity to reset, and the research is clear: Walking meetings are the future and should be a staple in your toolkit as you return to work in person or as you rethink your work routine.

Tap Into the Benefits

For many workers, the pandemic has taught us that we can work wherever. However, as we move forward, we also need to address the burnout and disconnection that many workers feel as they sit behind a computer screen for eight hours a day.

MacAllister notes, “switching from virtual to walking meetings makes a noticeable difference in your creativity, productivity, and wellbeing.”

A walking meeting can be done with two people over the phone on headsets or in person and include the following benefits:

Increase in Creativity

Research has shown that walking meetings increase creativity by 81-100%, specifically “divergent thinking," which is a type of thinking that allows for a person to let go of the world they currently work in and think freely and openly.

If you often feel stuck trying to solve a problem, you might quickly find a solution by changing your scenery and surrounding yourself with nature.

Boosted Productivity

Getting away from your desk and office minimizes the disruption that occurs in the office by 100%. Walking in nature can help reduce mental fatigue and restore the pathways to attention and focus. It should be noted that it does not support convergent thinking or focused work so it’s not right for all meetings.

Improved Wellbeing and Health

While you are allowing your mind to think in new and exciting ways, you can also improve your overall health. Exercise can improve mental health, particularly depression, stress, and anxiety.

Walking also has physical health benefits for cardiovascular health, weight loss, and diabetes.

Increase Productivity by Leveraging Social Connectivity

Walking meetings can help build positive relationships with team members. To meaningfully create a positive change in a working relationship, one has to reach out and connect with that person.

As we know, doing that safely in a pandemic is difficult, and doing so virtually does not always have a significant effect. “To increase connectivity between coworkers, try the safest method of fully connecting and maintaining safe distances: take your work outside,” says MacAllister.

Walking activates mental cognition and creates an enhanced mind-body connection. Studies show that walking physiologically improves happiness, creativity, cognitive abilities, and sociability. While your mind is experiencing increased focus when walking, it is a great time to have a meeting where you are able to direct your attention on a coworker to establish a deeper connection, while also lifting your mood and self-confidence.

Reassert the Healing Power of Nature

While we can help sanitize the interior environment with cleaning protocols and airflow and filtration, it can sometimes cause exposure to toxins that can trigger other health concerns for some. The chemicals from cleaning and sanitizing products have been shown to cause harmful respiratory conditions like asthma. Organizations trying to meet with their team safely may be tempted to over-clean when instead it could be more beneficial to meet outdoors.

Meeting outside is not only safer, it is also restorative as nature triggers stress reduction by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Exposure to nature also increases mental sharpness and cognitive functioning as well as boosting immune function. Some of these positive effects manifest in just a five-minute walk. So, finding a local park or pathway would be a great way to improve both your physical and mental health.

In addition, research has been able to directly demonstrate that the impact of sunlight and Vitamin D. Activity can also boost productivity through one’s ability to focus on work, and perform a task, known as presenteeism. When you feel like you are losing focus, try this if you can: Move outside, phone a colleague, talk, and walk. You will be amazed at what occurs when you are able to step away and restore.

Let’s Get Moving

If you’re struggling with how to start, creating scheduled communication can be very important. Not only can the practice of daily or weekly check-in or “pulse meetings” at work be a mental health check-in point for teams and individuals but walking meetings themselves can serve as a healing remedy.

Organization leaders should take the initiative to normalize these types of meetings to help your employees feel more comfortable doing so as well. I regularly take calls either outside or while walking and I want my team to feel comfortable doing the same.

As MacAllister summarizes: “Whether engaging in a walking meeting or scheduling time for a solo venture, walking can be the future of workplace collaboration, a key to mental and physical health, and the foundation for productivity in the years to come.”

This article was contributed to by Dr. Lorissa MacAllister who is a researcher, speaker, architect, and writer working to transform organizations to achieve optimal performance. As the Founder and President of Enviah, she leads the consulting firm to create environments that are fully integrated with an organization's people, places, and processes.

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