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Networking Is Over. Welcome Sweatworking?

More time-strapped office workers are combining their workouts with networking, but there's right and wrong ways to do it.

[Photo: Flickr user Curtis MacNewton]

Good news for those who've had to choose between after-work schmoozing over cocktails or sweating through a cardio session: a new hybrid concept called "sweatworking" lets you connect with clients, colleagues, or other contacts while exercising. Generations of businessmen have bonded with business contacts through rounds of golf, but now a broader range of networking activities are gaining popularity, thanks to a greater emphasis on active lifestyles.

Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs, an online marketplace for graphic design headquartered in San Francisco, has gone running or surfing with potential business partners before or after brainstorming sessions. "It gets the creative juices flowing when we get outside the office and build that camaraderie," he says.

One contact turned out to be a world-class kite surfer, but Llewellyn (who admits he's more of a beginning surfer himself) says he also enjoys surfing with first-timers. "There's nothing like watching someone's face as they manage to glide along a wave for the first time," he says. "It's a fun, kid-like experience."

Toronto-based productivity consultant and professional organizer Clare Kumar went running with a former coworker contact every Sunday for four years, and says that colleague became hugely helpful in launching her business and connecting her with media opportunities. A 90-minute run or yoga class likely burns more calories and takes less time than 18 holes of golf, says Kumar, so it appeals to busy people who want to combine fitness objectives with the desire to stay active.

Photo: Flickr user Fabrizio Sciami

Still, she cautions against activities that are too cognitively demanding, so you don't "have the challenge of trying to make decisions and moving your body." For instance, running and walking are conducive to multitasking, because they don't require total concentration.

Kanesha Baynard, a Bay Area transition coach who works with job seekers and others, says sweatworking is a also great strategy for job seekers trying to build their network in a new city. She suggests proposing an activity that you know the other person enjoys (maybe a mutual contact tells you Bob loves to cycle, or his LinkedIn profile tips you off), not necessarily one that you're great at. "If you have been participating in a certain activity for awhile, you may want to think about trying a new or neutral activity, so the person you invite to sweatwork does not feel intimidated," she explains.

Sweatworking Gets Organized

In addition to scheduling one-on-one or small sweatworking sessions, a growing number of gyms, fitness studios, and other companies offer more structured sweatworking events so that fitness-conscious entrepreneurs or young professionals can meet and mingle.

Lucy Maringangeli, an avid runner who works in HR at a consulting firm in Chicago, has attended A Sweat Life's monthly sweatworking events at venues across the Windy City, including a reformer Pilates studio, a spin studio, and a gym. For her, the appeal is twofold: the social aspect and the opportunity to try out workouts that are more varied than her usual run. "In the past I've tended to work out solo, but it's so much more fun to work out with friends and be exchanging smiles," she says.

Sweatworking as a Recruiting Tool?

Some employers looking to attract and retain highly skilled employees now use sweatworking events as a recruiting tool, according to Baynard. "They can observe how a potential employee shows up, how they challenge themselves, and if they enjoy working hard while engaging in a physical activity," she says.

Whether the goal is to land a new job, try out a new workout, or build rapport with a new business partner, exercise can serve as a great equalizer. "There's no corporate armor on anymore," Kumar says. "You're in a more vulnerable place. Relationships can grow in a different way."

Susan Johnston is a writer whose articles on business and personal finance have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, DailyWorth.com, Learnvest.com and Entrepreneur.com. She's also a regular contributor to the money section of USNews.com.

Related: Are You Networking or Nagging?