Walking Meetings – Lauren Branch

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Lauren Branch

How many meetings do you have in one day? If you’re like me, the conference calls and meetings are endless. I spend a great deal of my time holding meetings in a stark conference room or sitting face-to-face with someone in an office environment. And because NewView Oklahoma is a state-wide agency with offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, I travel back and forth down the turnpike several times a week, most often conducting business over the phone while I’m driving.

I recently returned from a conference in Arizona at a working Dude Ranch where a great deal of our work was done in an outdoor environment – NOT in a conference room or a meeting room. We had morning sessions indoors, but in the afternoons, most of meetings were held outside while we were hiking, mountain biking or riding horses together. And I tell you what, I have never felt more productive and energized.

Our group spent a full week engaging on an entirely different level, and I credit that to the walking meetings and the drastic change in our environment. I found that hiking through the desert in small groups while we discussed important matters gave us the opportunity to be more candid with each other and have more honest exchanges. We were able to decompress within the context of working, while at the same time increasing our productivity. We were able to see each other in a new light outside of traditional work environments and form deeper relationships.

Over the years, I have tried to conduct walking meetings with colleagues or change up the meeting environment when possible, finding that much more is accomplished when there are no distractions. And, ultimately, I would always come back to the office re-energized. However, I have let that habit slack over the years.

I found an interesting article which supports my unscientific findings. The 2015 Harvard Business Review article referenced a 2014 study featured in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and found that “walking opens up the free flow of ideas.” And that walking “is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”

In addition to the increased productivity, there are obvious health benefits from walking meetings as well. According to the American Council of Exercise:

1. Walking helps stimulate creativity. If you want to enhance cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts, walking is the way to go. In a study out of Stanford University, subjects completed a divergent thinking test while seated and again while walking on a treadmill or outdoors. The results showed that most of the participants benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average increase in creative output was around 60%. Even more interesting was that the creative boost was more evident in the group that walked outdoors.

2. Walking meetings increase communication between co-workers. When you’re walking, you’re more relaxed. Elevating your heart rate, even just a little bit, increases oxygen to the brain and the production of neurotransmitters. Think about what happens in a boardroom meeting. People look at their phones when they’re uninterested. Nothing is worse than presenting and looking out at a table of disengaged people. When you’re walking, you’ll have fewer distractions and will be able to openly communicate and problem solve.

3. Walking meetings improve cardiovascular health and can help decrease the risk of various diseases. Lack of time is a common reason why people don’t get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Imagine if you could get your exercise in while at work. If you don’t have time for a 30-minute continuous walk, know that three 10-minute walks are equally beneficial.

Of course, walking meetings are not suitable to replace all scheduled meetings, but I have made it one of my goals to incorporate some of the things from my Arizona trip back at home. (That doesn’t mean we will be holding meetings on horseback!) I urge you all to join me and continue to look for opportunities within our organizations that allow us to think outside the box and work outside of our traditional office environments.

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