Walking meetings have become standard practice at LinkedIn headquarters. Stop by any day of the week and you’ll see workers out talking while walking on the bike path surrounding the company’s Mountain View CA grounds. The path can be lapped in about 20-25 – a handy half-hour one-on-one with a colleague (with no one barging into the room creating interruptions). Other Silicon Valley companies have marched forward with the walking trend, too. Facebook just installed a half-mile loop on the roof of its new headquarters in Menlo Park, where its employees do a good deal of their walking meetings.
The walking clearly has health benefits. Desk-bound employees can all benefit from a bit more movement. In fact, study upon study has shown that sitting too much is killing us. Yet the merits to this activity go beyond physical exertion. Walking can lessen the sense of formality, relax inhibitions and cultivate camaraderie between colleagues – moreover, less eye contact can actually produce more personal conversation. And of course meeting on the go also eliminate some of the common distractions — no phones, no email, no texts, no colleagues interrupting you.
Perhaps most intriguing, walking can generate to more creative thinking, according to a recent study from researchers at Stanford University (of course the ancient Greeks, who strolled while philosophizing, already knew this long ago!)
With sit-downs indoors, you face each other across a table. “You feel like you’re at the principal’s office,” Igor Perisic, LinkedIn’s vice president explained. “That’s not what you want.” Perisic shared an incident where he and a colleague were trying to solve a problem with LinkedIn’s search function. They logged hours in a meeting room scribbling on a white board attempting to untangle the issue. Still he felt like he was missing something.
“So we went out on a walk and talked about it,” Perisic said. When they got back indoors, they had the solution. “And it seemed like the obvious choice.”
Many prominent business and political leaders are also fans of the walk and talk — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and president Barack Obama. There’s even a TED Talk on walking meetings.
When people walk they also tend to let their guard down, said Marily Oppezzo, who researched walking and creativity, along with her professor Daniel Schwartz, at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Their paper was published last year in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.
“Walking releases your filter,” Oppezzo explains. Ideas you hold back in a conference room come spilling out when you’re moving.
To gauge walking’s effect on creativity, Schwartz and Oppezzo had test subjects walk and sit, and then asked them to find alternate uses for everyday items like tires or buttons. One person suggested using a button as a doorknob for a dollhouse, a tiny strainer, something to drop behind you to keep your path, for example.
They found that people who walked were able to come up with more unique ideas, both while they were walking and immediately afterward. And, it didn’t matter much if they walked on a treadmill or outside.
“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas,” they write in their paper.
But this doesn’t mean companies should be converting all their conference rooms into gyms and tracks. Sometimes, a team is going to have to sit down.
The research out of Stanford showed sitting to be a better option when someone had to solve a problem only having a single right answer. For example, they asked test subjects to come up with a single word that combines with the words “cottage, Swiss, and cake.” Respondents who worked on this while sitting had greater success solving this: cheese.
LinkedIn’s Perisic also noted that oftentimes he needs to use a whiteboard to get through tricky parts of a project. Moreover, for personally sensitive conversations – reporting workplace discrimination, or telling an employee that their performance isn’t measuring up – dialogue in a formal setting is more appropriate.