Work Culture

Meetings waste everyone's time—so start standing or walking


Published on August 30, 2017

It’s the weekly meeting again. You grab a seat, set down your coffee, open your laptop, and get comfortable—mind-numbingly comfortable. Your energy drops, your focus drifts, your ideas begin to calcify. The secret to shaking up this familiar yet inefficient routine? It’s as simple as standing up or taking a stroll.

Filed under

Standing and walking meetings don’t just boost physical activity and improve health. They can turn a flabby, lethargic gathering into a lean, focused exercise in productivity. Standups and walk and talks aren’t right for everyone, and may feel unnatural at first.

But with some sensitivity, practice, and preparation, they can become a highly effective option at the office. Find out how to make standing and walking meetings work for your team—and take your group gatherings to a new level.

The benefits of meeting on your feet

Saving time: The most common complaint about meetings? They run long and waste precious minutes. By switching up the format and offering a fresh perspective, standing and walking meetings increase attention and boost efficiency. According to researchers, standing meetings take 25% less time on average than their sit-down counterparts, even when they cover the same content and produce comparable results.

Brain benefits: Studies show that standing meetings promote collaboration by reducing territorial behavior and encouraging idea sharing. As for the walk and talk, research reveals that walking boosts creativity by increasing divergent thinking—that is, thinking outside the box—both during the walk itself and for a short period afterward.

Reduced distractions: Checking email, sending texts, and multitasking on other projects has become standard behavior during meetings—diverting everyone’s focus away from the finish line. Standing and walking meetings help solve this problem by rendering laptops infeasible and making rapidly texting thumbs impossible to hide.

Inclusive alternatives: If standing or walking isn’t an option for you or a team member, you can still achieve similar results without actually standing up or taking a stroll. Get creative: Move your sit-down meetings outside to reap the attention-restoring power of nature; boost productivity by making your meeting more visual; or simply set up a humorous holding pen for distracting devices. The point is to keep your meetings fresh, on track, and interruption free.

How to make standup meetings a success

Prep for efficiency: Standing won’t magically shorten your meeting if you’re still trying to cram in an hour’s worth of material. Put in the effort to craft a lean, mean agenda and provide it to participants in advance. When everyone shows up with a clear focus and answers at the ready, your meetings can truly hum.

Stash the seats: Holding a standup in a room filled with elegant Eames chairs qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Remove temptation by stacking or sidelining seats ahead of time—while leaving some accessible to team members who require them.

Respect the clock: Late starts make any meeting miserable, but they’re particularly punishing if those idle minutes are spent shifting from one foot to another. If you’ve fallen into the habit of waiting for latecomers, use the new standing format as a chance to reassert the maxim: The meeting waits for no one.

Take note of notes: While the lack of laptops reduces distractions, it also means adjusting the note-taking process. Bring in a white board—which can also focus attention visually—and assign a team member to jot down notes and remind team members of any post-meeting action items.

How to put walking meetings in motion

Choose topics wisely: Because they spur creative thinking, strolls are ideal for brainstorming and problem-solving. Walking together also feels more casual and collaborative, making a walk a good time to elicit honest feedback from colleagues. Avoid a walking meeting if the situation demands eye contact, facial cues, or formality, such as a business negotiation or negative performance review.

Plan the route: You negate the benefits of walking—reduced distractions, free-flowing ideas—if you’re navigating noisy, traffic-clogged streets. Instead, choose a quiet route with minimal stops and an appropriate round-trip distance for your time window. Even if you have ample minutes, keep the overall mileage low and the elevation change minimal. This is a meeting, not a trip to the gym.

Avoid surprises: An impromptu stroll sounds fun—unless you’re stumbling along in high heels or freezing without a jacket. Instead, give participants at least a day’s notice before a walking meeting, so they can bring appropriate footwear, clothing, and sun protection.

Ask for feedback: Everyone has different responses to light, noise, and exertion. One person’s inspiring environment may be another person’s distraction zone. After your meeting, check in with your colleague: How did walking work for them? What could make it better? With a few tweaks and a little practice, walking and standing meetings can become a snooze-proof part of your repertoire, putting your discussions—and your goals—back on the fast track.