Photo by Arturo Castaneyra on Unsplash
Last week, I was doing some research on creativity hacks and stumbled upon a Stanford study that found: “Walking boosts creativity”.
The researchers examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. People’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking, and it turned out especially helpful with tasks that required a fresh perspective or new ideas.
No big surprise when I found that walking meetings have been ‘a thing’ for quite some time in The Valley. Mark Zuckerberg (facebook), Jack Dorsey (twitter) and Jeff Weiner (linkedin) have long integrated walking routines into their daily schedules. Even president Obama is reportedly a big fan of walks and talks.
Talking with my husband Hannes over dinner about it, he told me: “Oh, our backend team lead Marcin holds walking meetings with his developers too. But virtually, on the phone.” That got my curiosity piqued.
4 Key Benefits of Walking Meetings
For anyone who’s still questioning it, here are 4 pretty good reasons why you should just take your next 1:1 outside:
1. Creative Problem Solving
Walking has been scientifically proven to boost you creativity and increase your problem solving abilities! Wether it’s the change of setting or the physical activity or both: Ideas come more easily and at a different quality when walking. Might come in handy when you are facing your next challenge and can’t wrap your head around it.
Walking eliminates all kinds of distractions and helps you focus a 100% on your conversation! No cell phones, no e-mails popping up, no colleagues asking for urgent (or not so urgent) things — just you and your colleague: Could there be any better setting for a really good, productive conversation?
Yes, walking is good for you — vitamine D and physical exercise and such. How many hours a day are you stuck inside and spending a sitting position? We all seem to struggle to fit our exercise into our busy work schedules. So be smart and combine the two!
It’s informal character and the act of walking side by side levels hierarchies and helps people open up and get to the core of things, e.g. problems. The lack of eye contact while walking makes talking about delicate and tricky topics a bit easier. And people form a real connection while walking together.
Remote Walking Meetings Work
So, our backend team lead Marcin came across walking meetings while reading some of the great start-up biographies. He needed to adapt the setting a bit to make it work — stanwood is a fully remote company with 40 people working from all over Europe — but he started walking anyway.
Marcin (r.) and Sven (l.), stanwood team leads for backend and Android development, talking shop at one of our team workshops in Berlin. (Martin Waury Fotografie)
“At first, we had our 1:1s as regular hangout calls from our desks. But soon I noticed, everyone was so busy with their tasks that, when sitting in front of our laptops, we got easily distracted and did something on the side — responded to an important message, take a quick screenshot etc. So I decided to move my 1:1s from the desk to the outside.”
Besides the obvious health benefits, there is another benefit of walking together: It creates a kind of connection between people, helps them open up and get to the core of things instead of just scratching at the surface.
“I learned last minute that a hardworking and talented developer was about to quit,” said Marcin.
"During my walks and talks, I found out that one of my top developers was questioning the way we work and got in a very negative state of mind. My mistake at the beginning was to dismiss his feedback and draw conclusions too fast. I assumed he just didn’t want to work in a structured way and he was finger pointing at problems instead of looking for solutions. The right thing to do would have been to go deeper and try to understand the real problem.”
After a few talks — and walks — they slowly got back on track. Marcin found out that his developer really was overstressed with tight schedules, and that quitting his sports activities did not help him either to recharge. What he learned from that experience:
“In a remote company where we don’t see people’s faces while communicating, we miss all the nonverbal clues and undertones. That’s why it’s more important than ever to talk to each other and give people the feeling to be heard, especially when something’s going wrong.”
And they create enough time to have a real conversation and to get to the core of what’s really going on without any distractions.
6 Tips to Make Walking Meetings Work
1. Choose a route before you walk!
Marcin’s walking meetings take about 30 minutes. He set himself a fix route that he knows takes 15 minutes in one direction and 15 minutes back. His virtual walking partners do the same in their own locations and, together they walk and talk.
2. Create a rough agenda!
Marcin structured his meetings by asking four questions which more or less go along these lines:
1. What did you do last week?
2. Could I have helped you in any way but failed to do so?
3. Where can I help you in the following week to do your work even better?
4. What do you like most and least of your current work and what would you like to try out in the future?
“That way, you get to know what’s happening in your projects, but more importantly: You get people’s opinion on things, find out if there’s something bothering them or making their work more difficult.”
3. Prepare Topics You Want to Tackle!
“I have a short file on each team member where I write down topics I want to address during these meetings. Before each walking meeting, I have a quick look at it and integrate the topic into my agenda.”
4. Walk in the Afternoon!
“Usually, afternoons are a less productive time for many people, so it makes sense to schedule your walks during this time. At 4 PM, I don’t have brilliant ideas anymore, but I can talk and more importantly, listen to people.”
5. Really Listen!
“Remember: You need to listen twice as much than you talk yourself. People have the urge to solve other people’s problems, give the solution or show the right way. But those meetings are not about you. They are about letting people talk and truly listening to them. They will notice if you are not really engaged in the conversation and stop opening up to you immediately. ”
6. Take action!
And the last but most important thing: You cannot ignore what’s been said. “If a developer tells me about a problem during our walk and I agree on it, I have to take action afterwards.” Marcin takes 5 minutes after each walk and writes down what topics they’ve discussed and creates to dos for himself and other team members. That way, he not only knows what’s going on in his projects, he does his part to take them forward.
So, when is your next 1:1 meeting? Don’t think too long about it, just grab your shoes and WALK!