Get out of my office: how to switch to ‘walking meetings’

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2017/sep/12/get-out
Tuesday 12 September 2017 11.27 EDT

They have been championed by Steve Jobs, Sigmund Freud, Aristotle – and any character of note in The West Wing. Walking meetings are now being prescribed by Public Health England (PHE) as a potential cure to chronic sedentarism in the workplace (“Sitting is the new smoking,” Dr James Levine, one of the US’s leading obesity experts, has warned). “Move more. Get up and walk about. And I don’t just mean in the office,” reads PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie’s planned speech at the group’s annual conference this week, according to the Times. “Go out for a walk, get some fresh air for a meeting.”

That’s all very well, Duncan, but let’s not march past reception without this vital guide to the art of the walk’and’talk.

Use it to brainstorm – not to make decisions

Piles of research into the mental benefits of walking meetings suggest that it does not encourage all forms of thinking equally. In one Stanford study, desk jockeys thought of 60% more uses for common objects while on a treadmill rather than at a desk. This suggested walking is good for creativity. But the same subjects did worse in tests of “convergent thinking” while walking, suggesting that sitting is better for reaching a consensus or coming to a resolution.

Have a destination

Pick a target, be it a secluded garden or the nearest Nando’s (you’ve earned it). In one self-referential episode of the aforementioned US political drama, Josh and Sam paused a walk’n’talk when Sam asked: “Where are you going?” They had been following each other. For a successful walking meeting, aimlessness is not a good look.

But also: meander

In yet another test of peripatetic performance, researchers at National Taiwan University asked students to think of new uses for chopsticks either while walking the perimeter of a large rectangle or while wandering within it. The free walkers outperformed the linear thinkers. Moreover, the free walkers then performed worse when they followed a “random” route projected by a boss using a laser printer. So, bosses: pick a destination but let your team plot the route on the fly.

Don’t bring the whole team

Walking is good but there is no sense in marching 10 abreast along a busy pavement as in the opening scenes of The Apprentice. David Haimes, a senior product developer at Oracle, told the Harvard Business Review that side-by-side walking breaks down “organisational hierarchy” – but suggests a maximum of three people.

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