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Walk And Talk! The Benefits of a Walking Meeting

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

This article was published on Ikea.

There’s a brilliant moment in the first series of The West Wing where two members of the President’s staff are striding through the corridors of the White House and conducting an intense “walk and talk” as they try to find a solution to the latest political crisis. As their conversation comes to a finish, both of them pause, puzzled.

Sam Seaborn: Where are you going?

Josh Lyman: Where are you going?

Sam Seaborn: I was following you?

Josh Lyman: I was following you! … All right, don’t tell anyone this happened, okay?

The walk and talk is a much-loved storytelling technique used across countless Hollywood movies and television series, with a host of TV lawyers, FBI agents, doctors, nurses and other characters walk-and-talking through busy corridors as film crews scoot rapidly backwards in front of them.

But Hollywood did not invent the concept of the walk and talk. Workers in stores, warehouses and offices all over the world have conducted on-the-go meetings for decades. The concept brings to mind an image of a busy CEO moving purposefully across the office trailed by clipboard-waving executive assistants, but this meeting method needn’t be limited to the busiest or most senior people in an organisation.

Mix it up to beat meeting fatigue

Meeting fatigue is a very real thing. There’s no rule-of-thumb about the “correct” number or length of meetings, but there’s no denying the frustration felt by staff who have to frequently abandon their work to attend yet another meeting. This frustration is particularly strong when staff feel that meetings are unnecessary: you can even order coffee mugs featuring the words “I survived another meeting that should have been an email” to let your manager know (in a rather passive-aggressive manner) how you feel.

While every manager should try to minimise the number of meetings their teams are subjected to, some get-togethers will always be unavoidable. But meeting fatigue can be combatted by simply inviting participants to join you on a walk and to discuss the issue as you go. Again, there’s no rule about how long this needs to be – it could be only two minutes long as you move from one part of the office to another, or it could be a longer walk around the block or to the local park.

Walking meetings (obviously) are only appropriate for one-on-ones or for small groups – it would look more than a bit odd to have a phalanx of 10 to 20 employees moving as a group through the office or down the street! It’s also important to keep accessibility in mind in case any members of your team would find it physically difficult to participate in a walking meeting.

Health benefits

Sitting at a desk for too many hours per day endangers your health. Sedentary lifestyles have been proven to increase the chances of being overweight, developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, suffering from lower energy levels, and experiencing depression and anxiety.

This situation is compounded by the lifestyles many people lead outside of work hours – they sit in their cars to drive to the office, sit at their desks to work through lunch, and round off a long day of sitting by watching television in their evening hours from the comfort of their couch.

It’s important, therefore, to find ways to stand up and move around as often as possible throughout the day. Standing desks are one solution, along with getting up and walking over to a colleague’s desk rather than emailing them. For groups, standing meetings are also becoming increasingly popular – but nothing beats the health benefits of going for a walk.

Creativity benefits

Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas occur to you while you’re away from your desk? This is because standing up and going for a walk increases your creative output by as much as 60 per cent. A Stanford study discovered that people had twice as many creative (innovative) ideas while they were walking (or immediately after walking) compared to someone sitting at their desk.

Walking meetings, therefore, are creativemeetings. Given that a lot of meetings are called in order to find an innovative solution to a pressing problem, it’s a fantastic opportunity to benefit from the extra “jolt” of creativity that a walking meeting brings with it.

Indoors versus outdoors

It’s really up to you whether you want to conduct your walking meeting indoors or outdoors. In terms of the creativity boost, the same Stanford study found that the effects were equally beneficial whether participants were walking on an indoor treadmill or outside in the fresh air.

But research has shown that exposure to sunlight, fresh air and nature can improve short-term memory and concentration, relieve tension and stress, strengthen immune systems, and – perhaps most importantly of all – boost happiness levels.

And remember, walking isn’t the only form of exercise you can take during meetings. Particularly in the case of one-on-ones, meetings can be carried out absolutely anywhere – in the gym, on the golf course, on the squash court – so long as all parties are amenable to the idea (and as long as you aren’t too out-of-breath to talk properly).

Keep walking meetings disciplined

One last tip: just because your meeting is taking place in an informal environment, this doesn’t mean that the rules should be thrown out the window. Create and stick to an agenda, make sure the meeting starts and finishes on time, and give everyone a chance to contribute to the discussion.

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