Connecting in Walking Meetings

Why We Feel More Connected in Walking Meetings

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” — Friedrich Nietzsche

There is a reason some of the greatest thinkers (who also happened to be great at marketing their thinking), had a habit of walking; either with themselves or with others for walking meetings.

Sitting down, inside, meeting after meeting, likely with a loose agenda but rarely a significant outcome – that tends to be a large majority of our working lives today.

We meet to share updates, discuss topics that feel slightly irrelevant to our core mission, and very rarely feel more connected with each other than we did beforehand. If anything, we leave with a slight taste of resentment and frustration.

In our personal lives, ‘catching up with a friend,’ might typically look like catching up at the bar, or at the local cafe for a tea or coffee. Again, we might leave feeling satisfied, light and re-connected, but I know for me there is something missing. An ease, the feeling of moving in a common direction, a feeling of being side-by-side, supporting, guiding. Together.

Of course there are some instances in a working environment when indoor meetings make sense.

Types of meetings

We could divide meetings into six categories:

Status updates (quite pointless, or could be done on a project management software)
Information sharing (again, use something like Slack)
Decision making (often necessary)
Problem-solving (often necessary)
Innovation/creative (useful)
Team building (useful)

The first two categories could easily be met with a project management and collaboration software. The last four categories could call for a physical meeting. 

So, why embrace walking meetings?

It is known that Aristotle instructed students while strolling the Lyceum. Sigmund Freud conducted many of his analyses by foot. And Charles Dickens quite routinely walked around 20 miles a day with no particular destination in mind. He once walked 30 miles from his London home to his country residence at 2am 🤔

As Sports Illustrated reported, Dickens found writing to be “painful,” and walking was a significant de-stressor after a long day.

More recent walkers include Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Weiner, and Steve Jobs. Whilst I might question some of the thinking that takes place here, I can’t help but see the pattern in fostering strong working relationships and expanding the box in the thinking that does take place.

Walking across the street

Here are some of the reasons walking meetings help us connect:

1. They create a safe space for candor

Walter Isaacson, who wrote Jobs’ biography, told Forbes that Jobs insisted their first meeting happen on the move; it was Jobs’ preferred way of meeting someone and having a serious conversation.

LinkedIn is known for its workplace culture and the effort and intentionality in designing both space and culture. They have their own bike path, built into their California headquarters, often used by colleagues for walking meetings.

Igor Perisic, LinkedIn’s vice president of engineering, commented to Huffington Post that desks create unwelcoming barriers during one-on-one meetings:

“You feel like you’re at the principal’s office. That’s not what you want.”

Very much agreed! If we are to foster meaningful, creative and nurturing relationships – in work, and life-outside-work – finding ways to have others feel in our spaces, and a permission to let their guards loose a little is crucial. The nature of casually walking and talking, side-by-side helps create that space!

“When we walk we let our guard down,” says Marily Oppezzo, a post-doctoral student at Stanford School of Medicine.

“Walking releases your filter. Ideas you hold back in a conference room come spilling out when you’re moving.”

This makes walking meetings incredible useful then, for relationship building, team building or important decision making.

2. They inspire creative thinking

“Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” — Henry Thoreau

We are influenced by our environment, in many ways and even when we think we may not be. Walking outside seems to be a great catalyst for generating fresh perspectives, discoveries, and ideas. 

One research study looking to find out how walking does effect our creative performance, had test subjects look to find alternate uses for everyday objects like car tires after either walking or sitting.

For example, one subject suggested using a clothing button as a doorknob for a tiny house, a miniature strainer, and a ground marker for path tracking.

The study found that the walkers came up with many more unique ideas than the sitters, both while walking and after walking.

Another study published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found that both children and adults performed a memory exercise better while walking than sitting.

While the reason isn’t incredibly clear just yet, researchers speculate that movement itself produces superior brain functioning compared to that of typical multi-tasking. 

Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman echoes the theory:

“I suspect the greatest mental benefits of walking are explained not by what it is, but by what it isn’t. When you go outside, you cease what you’re doing, and stopping trying to achieve something is often key to achieving it… And in some hard-to-specify way, even the distractions of walking — traffic noise, people — seem to help.”

Regardless of the science behind it, you simple need to reflect on your meetings and the times you have ventured into movement and the outdoors. How do you feel after a walking meeting, compared to a seated indoors meeting?

3. Movement and the outdoors is simply good for you

Of course, walking makes you feel good. It also gets you moving, awakening from the slumber of our sedentary working lives.

Did you know that the average professional spends an average of 9.3 hours per day seated and 7.7 hours per day sleeping. While I don’t necessarily consider sitting to be “the new smoking,” I do know that regular movement is essential to my well-being, in may ways!

One study found 12 minutes of walking to increase happiness, vigor, and attentiveness significantly more than the same time spent sitting. 

To walk or not to walk?

There are plenty of reasons to experiment with walking, whether at work or simply for friendly catchups. Enhanced creativity, greater candor, and physical fitness are just a few of the lovely benefits.

Of course, all things happen within context. So, consider the intention of your meetings, the outcomes you are hoping for and whether walking would support you in this. 

While I do enjoy a room with whiteboards all over for some creative meetings or workshops, I will always prefer going for a ‘wander and ponder’ together most other times. 

What are your thoughts or comments? How do you like to meet, how do you prefer to connect with others in this way?

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