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Leadership

How To Make Walking Meetings Work

Hitting the trails instead of the conference room sounds great, but how does that work in real life? We explore.

How To Make Walking Meetings Work
[Photo: Flickr user Chris Preen]

Being cooped up in an office all day when the weather is perfect can feel extra cruel, not to mention distracting.

Fresh air is a known mood booster, and physical activity tends to spark new ideas. So it’s no surprise that a number of people are trying "walking meetings" as a way to be more active while still getting the work done. The math is compelling: Turn two 30-minute meetings per day into walking meetings, and you’ll score five hours of aerobic exercise per week. That’s double what the CDC recommends.

People who’ve tried walking meetings also note that there are benefits beyond physical ones. "A meeting room is all about business," says Chris Kay, managing director of the Los Angeles office of 72andSunny, an advertising company. He says of walking: "I think it knocks down a barrier. It’s quite personal. You’re just having a chat with someone." You stay connected, even if the conversation is open, honest, or intense.

Photo: Flickr user mqnr

But just because the walking meeting has a lot going for it doesn’t mean it can replace all meetings. There are logistical challenges. Here’s how to make a walking meeting work:

Plan The Route For The Length Of The Meeting

First, think through some good routes. Beth Kanter, a social media and nonprofit expert who frequently advocates for walking meetings, recommends plotting out walks that are the typical length of calendar slots: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe even a 60-minute one. Avoid noisy or crowded areas if you can. Sometimes it helps to have a destination (hesitant types might be more amenable to "walking to get coffee" than just "walking"). And check the weather. If it’s unpleasant enough that the weather will be a distraction, you’re better off indoors.

Walking Meetings Work Best For One-On-Ones

Julian Berman, director of platform engineering at digital ad tech company Magnetic, says, "Anytime people aren’t walking astride, they’re going to break off onto other tracks." In most places, it’s pretty hard to walk more than three abreast without ticking off anyone else on the sidewalk. A nine-person meeting would quickly become three three-person meetings. So the best options for walking meetings are regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports, or informal catch-up sessions. Kay says he likes to interview candidates on walks. "I think you can have a more open conversation," he says, hopefully easing what is often a stressful encounter. "The lack of formality is helpful."

Mind Your Partner’s Pace

Unless agreed to in advance, think pleasant stroll, not Olympic speed walking. You’re probably wearing business clothes. The goal is not to break a sweat. (Save that for "sweatworking": See "Networking Is Over. Welcome Sweatworking?")

Leave The Notepad Behind

Checking email during a walking meeting is just as rude as checking it during a conference room one-on-one. But you’ll want your phone so you can send yourself a note (or a voicemail) if you and your walking partner come up with something brilliant en route. Not up for bringing it? Then stick to simple stuff. "We try not to pack too much into the meeting to the point where we couldn’t remember what we discussed," says Berman. The focus "is on one topic with some room for improv."

Warn People

At least the first time. Not everyone wears comfortable shoes to the office, so if you’d like to convert a meeting to walking, give fair notice that this is a good day to bring a pair of flats or a jacket if there’s a breeze.

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