Can every meeting be a walk in the park?

We need to come together to plan a project or take decisions – we send a calendar invite and book a meeting room. It’s our robotic default for decision making, and our calendars look like a meeting treadmill. Often we’re going from sitting at our desks to sitting in a meeting room and back again.

Should we be spurred on to think differently by new research published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine? The core message is that office workers should ‘get up and stand up for at least 2 hours daily during working hours’. The work, commissioned by Public Health England and a UK community interest company (Active Working CIC), found office workers typically spend 65-75% of their working hours sitting, with over 50% of this being for lengthy periods.

How does this work in practice? I’ve seen some organisations invest in sit-stand desks but it’s more common for employers to encourage people to regularly get up and walk about. In some offices internal email is discouraged so you have to get up and go and talk to other people. Essentially it’s a change in mindset and behaviour. Do we even need to stay in the office, only taking a walk to the park during our lunch hour?

Of course in some jobs there’s more freedom to leave your desk than in others, but when we started to think about it practically, there’s some really simple ways of getting on your feet and moving about. Some of my colleagues are much more motivated than I am, taking the stairs rather than the lift, but perhaps one of the main opportunities is to think differently about how we have meetings.

Yesterday we tried a standing huddle for a briefing rather than booking a meeting room for half an hour. The huddle took 10 minutes and we were definitely more purposeful. Even though there was no time limit imposed by a meeting room booking, we actually took far less time than normal to make decisions.

Of course there are some meetings that need to be in a confidential space, and when there’s lots of people, having a formal room helps make the meeting manageable. But there’s also many times when we don’t need this formality.

We also tried a walking meeting – we had two issues we needed to resolve so we decided it was a ‘two-block from the office’ matter. I’d seen other research saying getting outside and getting moving was good for creativity and lifting energy levels and for us it certainly worked. Could we take a walk to a coffee shop or through the park? Perhaps traditionally the perception was that leaving the office wasn’t ‘work’ even though there’s still a clear meeting rationale, but in many places this view is certainly changing for the better.

For years business discussions have taken place on the golf course, and there’s been a lot of research into the water cooler effect – connections being made and problems solved through chatting with people you meet at the water or coffee machine.

Many employers have initiatives in place that promote physical activity as part of their well-being offering, such as cycle-to-work schemes, subsidised gym membership and sponsored sports teams. Should we also be thinking about how we get more physically active during the working day? I’m definitely a fan.

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  • Anonymous

    Very informative blog, more thinking outside the box is needed.

  • Anonymous

    Nice to be reminded of how things could really be. As a psychotherapist within HR I would argue that these points becoming a part of our working culture is vital. We are not designed to sit for long periods. Our creativity is definitely stifled through long periods at the desk, so if your SMT are not up for a stroll for your next meeting, please do get up and get sparky at that water cooler!

  • We used to have management update meetings that went on for 3+ hours unproductively.  Changing this to a stand up meeting made the updates more specific and reduced the meeting time to 30-40 mins max.  Issues that needed more discussion were picked up by only the relevant people and decision making became quicker and more focussed.  More of this style of working please!

  • Having seemed to have spent a large percentage of my working life either preparing or sitting in meetings, I now reflect and think that the capita overall cost of any meeting is established and recorded at the same time the minutes of the previous meeting are read and agreed. This will focus the value and effectiveness of subject matter and question the "need" for some meetings, who should be there, and is it really the best most cost effective communication and decision making process. Meetings cannot be an accepted burdon to companies, and should be seen in the same light as any productivity related task in business. Any initiative to make meetings more cost as well as health "effective" would get my vote.