Science of Work

Take a page out of Steve Jobs’ book and switch to walking meetings

Conducting meetings during a walk outside isn’t just good for you — following in the footsteps of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, a famous lover of the walking meeting, could also help your productivity.

Here’s why you should consider this practice at work and how to incorporate it into your career.

Why walking meetings work

There are a variety of reasons why walking should be part of our daily routines.

Harvard Health Publications reported that “walking for 2.5 hours a week,” just 21 minutes a day, “can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%.” What’s more, walking has also been shown to “reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp.”

The mental benefits are particularly notable.

A 2015 Harvard Business Review article referenced a small-scale, 2014 study featured in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which found that “walking opens up the free flow of ideas.” Furthermore, the study found, walking “is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”

Paula Bracey, a director of project management at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, has reportedly conducted walking meetings in 15-minute session. She told The Wall Street Journal about the effects in 2016.

“Even just having a desk between two people, it almost states that you’re in this position and they’re in that position… When you’re side-by-side, we’re there with our comfy shoes on and we’re just two people out walking,” Bracey told The Wall Street Journal.

It’s clear that there are many benefits, but there are specific things you should keep in mind when scheduling a walking meeting.

The 2015 Harvard Business Review article featured tips. Among them were: “consider including an ‘extracurricular’ destination on your route,” “avoid making the destination a source of unneeded calories,” “do not surprise colleagues or clients with walking meetings,” and “stick to small groups.”

The role of eye contact

If you have a tough decision to make, it might also be a good idea to take your meeting outside because of one major factor: eye contact.

A 2016 study in the journal Cognition said that “although eye contact and verbal processing appear independent, people frequently avert their eyes from interlocutors during conversation. This suggests that there is interference between these processes.”

What kind of “interference”? Basically, it can be more difficult to process thoughts when you have to look someone in the eye under certain conditions. It may relate to the fact that most people are always looking at a conversational partner’s expressions to see their reactions.

Participants in the research were asked to watch movies featuring faces with eyes looking at them and ones with eyes that were not. The study found that “viewing a movie of faces with eyes directed toward the viewer delayed verbal generation more than a movie of faces with averted eyes.”

How to use it

So rather than having a crucial one-on-one with your boss or a colleague in a conference room — where the only appropriate place to look is at his or her eyes — think about holding the meeting during a walk though nature or on the street, anywhere you can look around, because your thoughts might flow more easily.

Not only will you have plenty to look at, but you could also find it easier to think clearly during the conversation.