Remote work

The benefits of taking your next Zoom meeting on the go

A workday of endless Zoom meetings presents a unique opportunity to walk and talk.
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Francis Scialabba

· 6 min read

As your coworker has informed you from the lofty heights of their standing desk, sitting all day makes us sicker, fatter, and sluggish. What’s worse, for all the times we’ve dramatically proclaimed, “My job is killing me,” it turns out that just might be true. American office workers sit an average of 15 hours per day. A 2017 correlational study suggested that leading sedentary lifestyles might literally be killing us: The high association between sitting and early mortality caused the authors to coin the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”

Employee wellness advocates want to move a step beyond standing desks to combat the negative outcomes of sitting. They’re following in the footsteps of famous thinkers like Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, and the cast of The West Wing by holding walking meetings, a meeting that takes place in motion instead of in an office or on a Zoom call. Proponents claim this meeting method makes employees healthier and better at their jobs.

To understand the benefits firsthand, HR Brew walked and talked with Greg Caplan, the cofounder and CEO of Spot Meetings, a tech startup that hosts, records, and transcribes walking meetings.

Caplan says he started Spot after years of reaping benefits from work walks. He’d expected to get healthier, and he did—during the first year of taking meetings by phone, Caplan shed 30 pounds and felt less fatigued. But he hadn’t anticipated boosts to his productivity, or how close he’d feel with colleagues after.

“It really helped my focus,” Caplan explained. “I have a really hard time paying attention during conversations, particularly video calls.” On video calls, Caplan said he had “the power of the internet at his fingertips” and often got distracted by open tabs.

“So you could tab over in two seconds and just start checking your email or reading articles when you’re not actively engaged in conversation,” he explained. When he walked, he realized he was more engaged.

“There’s this concept of primary and secondary focus, where if you don’t have a secondary focus, your brain will find one,” Caplan said. “The risk there is that it becomes too immersive and engaging, that becomes your primary focus…One of the best things to occupy your secondary focus is walking, right? Because you have to consciously be walking, but it doesn’t frequently take all of your attention away from the actual conversation that's happening. So it’s a really great way to help to distract you enough to stay focused on the conversation.”

You’ll want to stand up for this one

Caplan’s experience isn’t unique: Research has shown that there are cognitive benefits to movement. More than 80% of people who participated in a 2014 Stanford University study “improved their creative output while walking.” Study participants who walked prior to solving a puzzle generated more total creative solutions than sedentary participants and were better “divergent thinkers.”

Harvard Business Review found that workers who walked during meetings were 5.25% more likely to report being creative with their work than those who stayed put. And walking-meeting participants were 8.5% more likely to report higher levels of engagement with their work. Those numbers may not seem like a lot, but as the article authors point out, it’s a cheap way to bump productivity.

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“Keep in mind that walking meetings are not breaks from work. They are meetings that would have taken place regardless of whether they were held in someone’s office or while walking around your office complex,” Russell Clayton, who teaches at USF MUMA College of Business and studies the effects of exercise on work, wrote in HBR. “There may be no cheaper way to achieve moderate increases in creativity and engagement.”

As Caplan points out, innovation is at a premium in the new work environment.

“Performing rote mechanical tasks is not really what’s valuable anymore,” Caplan said. “But innovation and creativity is. And I think if people really want to be innovative and creative, they need to be active. And that’s what walking allows.”

And in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of year is, counterintuitively, perhaps the best time to get going on walking meetings. Executive coach Mansi Goel mused on LinkedIn about the impact of winter and shorter days on her work.

“​​Our work often has just one season now: production. It's 10x, moonshots, up-and-to-the-right all the time,” Goel wrote. “But our planet and our bodies have many seasons. Not honoring these has been catastrophic for both.”

Honoring the seasons, wrote Goel, means wanting “to soak up the sun while it's out and be indoors at dark.” Walking meetings allow her to do this; she incorporates daytime walking meetings into her routine to let her get outside without guilt and shifts screen time to the night.

Lace up your shoes

If you’re sold on walking meetings, experts have thoughts on how to make sure there are no trip-ups.

First, Caplan advises the best walking meetings are used to kick around ideas that don’t require sharing a lot of visuals. He further advises to keep the guest list small and to close-network connections only. Building trust with new business partners, he says, is better left for more formal in-person or on-camera settings.

Caplan also says to “stick with the familiar” during the first few walks.

“Start with what’s comfortable,” Caplan advised. “Find places where you know what the different areas are, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time crafting your path, or navigating a map, or understanding where the different dead zones are.”

But, but, but…Time and place is everything. Maybe save the walking meetings for informal brainstorms, not high-stakes pitch presentations. During our walking meeting, Caplan heard a good deal of background noise from my line, and afterward HR Brew couldn’t immediately access the recording or transcription of the call. Their team was ultimately able to recover the audio file, but it demonstrates that new tech isn’t perfect. Still, just holding one meeting outside could be a step in the right direction.

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Susanna Vogel via the encrypted messaging app Telegram (@SusannaVogel) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.