Walking Meetings Are Supposed to Improve the Workday—Here’s What Happened When I Tried Them

Photo: Getty Images/praetorianphoto
When I was a 22-year-old intern, I was borderline married to my desk—Mrs. Mary Grace Garis-Desk—afraid to be unavailable to my co-workers. Six years into my career, and I’ve since divorced the desk and taken a second spouse. I'm now Mrs. Mary Grace Garis-Comfy-Lounge-Chair, but I have ongoing affairs with the nearby public park and Mexican lunch spot. Suffice to say, I believe a location break can do wonders for facilitating a mental break, and was thus completely on board to try walking meetings.

Walking meetings are... well, they're literally exactly what they sound like. And beyond being promising for mental and physical health, research shows that giving your meetings legs can lead to amped-up creativity. So one day, I asked my manager, Alexis, if our weekly one-on-one could be a walking meeting. She was game, and we devised a plan: We'd do two walking-meeting trials. In Take One, we'd go in blind, look out our agenda notes before heading out and see how it goes. Then, in the interim between Take Two, I'd chat with a pro about how to really master walking meetings, and infuse our second walk with that intel to see if we saw any kind of a difference. Finally, we'd decide whether the method could be an effective tool for us to use regularly.

Quick sidenote: Alexis and I have a very positive relationship and share a mutual anxiety of, "I hope she doesn't think I'm a bitch." (It's an unspoken anxiety, but if your eyes are reading this now, it means her eyes already have, so you trust that she agrees.) Neither of us are big smilers, either; we quietly sit next to each other every day like twin blonde Squidwards, just trying to do our best. So on my end, I was stoked to just get out of the office with her, even if it was for a 10-minute power walk.

Here’s what we learned from taking our meetings OOO

Walking meeting tip 1: pre-plan your route

In Take One of our walking meetings, Alexis and I took a very improvised stroll around the perimeter of Union Square Park. I had no game plan beyond chatting through a few in-progress writing pieces I felt stuck on, and the need to grab an iced coffee at Starbucks. I kept hiccuping with “Uh, should we turn here?”—and according to Maggie Mistal, a New York City–based career coach, that highlights our first mistake. It's best to map out a route beforehand, she says, and maybe even time it out. "For example, if it takes 10 minutes to walk to the park, 10 minutes to do a loop and 10 to get back to the office, you'll need to schedule at least 30 minutes for your walking meetings," she says. "If you have more time, just add more loops. If you can't determine your route ahead of time, set an alarm on your phone with the vibration setting when there's say 15 minutes left to your meeting.”

That’s why during Take Two, I plotted out a firm around-the-park rotation with definitive plan for “we should turn here.” This way, I was more focused on our conversation than whether we should go to the Starbucks here, there, there, there or there. (Indeed there are five Starbucks within close proximity to Union Square Park.)

Walking meeting tip 2: Have a clear objective

Mistal notes that it’s important to know and communicate your objective for the walking meeting before you hit the pavement (i.e., come prepared). “Be clear about what it is you're there to accomplish in addition to getting some fresh air,” she says. “It helps the party you're meeting with to come prepared with thoughts and ideas and allows for a more productive outcome to your walking meeting.”

For Take One, I arrived with a long list of questions about articles I was working on; not so much for Take Two. Alexis, though, came to our second walking meeting prepared for a dialogue about how we should change up our approach to news hunting. When we circled back to our office, she said that she took notes beforehand about what she wanted to talk about during the meeting.

“Did you do that?” she asked me.

“I mean, pretty much,” I said, like a liar. No, I didn’t have major topics on my list beyond wanting to discuss that I was feeling frustrated by my current creative rut. And that bleeds into the two big strengths and two big weaknesses of walking meetings.

The verdict: Walking meetings are a welcome change of pace if not a little impractical

I regard walking meetings in the same vein of working from home: It’s definitely a nice break, but if you don’t inject a bit of self-discipline and structure into the situation, it can go haywire. Also, truth be told, there are some things that you simply need to do with laptops side-by-side, at least in my line of work. And to only Mother Nature’s fault, walking meetings can be tough to stick to. (Research for this article required two rain checks.)

Yet, I would say that walking meetings are a positive change of pace for fluid objectives like exchanging ideas, macro-level problem solving, and airing of concerns. The topic of both our meetings really addressed, Here is what I’m struggling with, and how can we constructively approach these struggles.” That unstructured vibe that comes with the inability to stare at a laptop screen throughout makes walking meetings a better option for sharing these qualitative thoughts than in a conference room.

Ultimately, they have their limitations but are great for the occasional one-on-one. (LOL, imagine a whole team of a dozen walking in a cluster to share ideas.) Walking meetings are personable, conversational, a meeting of minds, and a hanging of out. I definitely don’t think it’s something Alexis and I could do weekly, but it definitely makes a nice, say, once-a-month treat.

Furthermore, it bears mentioning that I remember Alexis’ outfits way better on the days of our walking meetings. (For the first, she wore was a muted green jumpsuit, and for the second one, a black jumpsuit with a print.) While that may make me sound like a big creep, outfit memorization is a big marker of friendship for me, so my personal armchair psychologist take is that our change in environment allowed us to actually connect more as friends?

My recommendation is that walking meetings are worth a try if only to see how it’ll impact your working relationship, but they're probably not an effective method for facilitating productive, efficient, forward mobility. On occasion though, if nothing else, they're a breath of fresh air.

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