Most business professionals have either heard of or perhaps even used the phrase ‘let’s walk and talk’.
While this has been consigned by many to the cupboard marked ‘Americanisms’ alongside phrases such as ‘Let’s run that idea up the flagpole’, new evidence has recently emerged that suggests that walking and talking may actually have significant merit. Michelle Marwood, Assistant Manager at Hylands Estate in Chelmsford, Essex – a popular meeting and conference venue – explains why this is ideal for our wellbeing and productivity.
I recently read an article about the social media company, LinkedIn, which encourages its employees to conduct walking meetings. Apparently there is a bike path near the company’s Mountain View headquarters in California which takes about 20-25 minutes to complete on foot – perfect for a half-hour one-to-one with a colleague.
According to the article, the practice of walking and talking at LinkedIn was born from necessity rather than creativity. The company was outgrowing its business premises due to rapid expansion so meeting rooms had become very hard to book.
As well as the obvious physical benefits of exercise, walking promotes better brain function. Being healthy and having a clear state of mind helps you make choices that are reasonable and well thought-out. In taking its meetings outside, LinkedIn had inadvertently stumbled across an activity that is not only beneficial to the health of its employees but to the health of the business as a whole.
A study into the effect of exercise on brain function that was carried out by the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus – the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.
Exercise also leads to improved mood and sleep and reduced stress and anxiety. Problems in any of these areas can impair cognitive function. These findings are further supported by research conducted by Marily Oppezzo, who researched walking and creativity along with her professor Daniel Schwartz, when she was a doctoral student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.
To measure the effect of walking on creativity, Schwartz and Oppezzo asked test subjects to walk and sit while tasked with finding alternative uses for everyday items like tyres or buttons. They found that people who walked were able to come up with more unique ideas, both while they were walking and immediately afterward.
Walking and talking also removes physical barriers such as desks and boardroom tables to create a less formal environment, which facilitates more relaxed, open conversation. It also removes other office-based distractions such as phones, emails and interruptions from colleagues.
However compelling this research is, it does not suggest that boardrooms are destined to become vacant spaces. While walking meetings help promote creative thinking, the researchers found that sitting is the better option when you have to solve a problem for which there is only one right answer. Schwartz and Oppezzo asked test subjects to come up with a single word that combines with the words “cottage, Swiss, and cake.” The sitters were better able to figure out the answer: cheese.
Similarly for formal interviews or potentially difficult conversations, such as staff performance reviews, sitting is a far more appropriate option. Here the formality of the setting and eye contact is hugely beneficial.
How much is enough?
The study carried out at the University of British Columbia suggests that a brisk one hour walk twice a week is enough – that’s just 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in seven days. If you adopt the walking meeting philosophy you could easily achieve this target within office hours – it equates to a just 24 minutes a day during a five day working week.
As well as LinkedIn, other high profile Americans who are fans of walking meetings are Barack Obama, Facebook Chief Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey. In fact, Facebook has just installed a half-mile loop on the roof of its new headquarters in California for that very purpose.
At Hylands Estate we have a totally natural resource at our disposal in the shape of 500 acres of parkland. Every year we host hundreds of business events, including meetings, conferences and seminars within our mansion building and pavilion but it’s still the minority rather than the majority of business clients whom make use of the surrounding gardens, lake and woodland.
The American research really made me think about how our clients could make far better use of our wonderful outdoor space, either for break-out sessions to assist with problem solving, relaxed one-to-ones or during seminars and conferences where creative thinking would be beneficial.
With many people citing work as a reason for not getting enough exercise, incorporating it into your working week seems like a great solution. Walking meetings will also help desk workers achieve the frequent breaks that are recommended by the health and safety executive.
Interestingly, in LinkedIn’s case, despite having now expanded into larger business premises, its employees are still quite literally choosing to think on their feet and regularly take to the bike path in the Californian hills.
While we aren’t able to guarantee the same levels of sunshine as California, we are able to provide hundreds of acres of the best of what England has to offer for relaxed, informal business meetings. We’re also happy to provide an umbrella or two.
To discover more about walk and talk meetings, visit www.hylandsestate.co.uk/business-events/.