Walking meetings allows for light exercise, but advocates say moving during the workday also brings cognitive advantages

Story highlights

A former technology executive is advocating holding meetings while on walks

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg favored walking meetings

Research has also shown the simple act of getting up helps workers think better

It is difficult to challenge the cultural norm of sitting in the office

CNN  — 

Steve Tobak, a California-based management consultant, recalls the agonizing one-on-one meetings he sat through years ago with a micromanaging boss. But when one day the boss changed tack and asked him to go on walks instead, it transformed their working and personal relationship.

“Somehow, when we were outside under the blue sky, getting a little exercise, he lightened up. We got along great after that,” Tobak says. “It was amazing.”

Group meetings where everyone is standing up have caught on in the past few years. But for one-on-one conversations, the trend at forward-thinking firms is to hold meetings while walking.

Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter have all been known to favor walking meetings.

Recently, Nilofer Merchant, a former technology executive, extolled the benefits of walk-and-talk meetings at a TED conference, noting the health advantages and the closer connections people form when away from the more traditional setting of a conference room.

“By walking side by side, it reinforces the perspective that you’re working on something together,” Merchant says.

Merchant, who previously worked for Apple, the software company Autodesk and a slew of other technology firms, said the decision to hold meetings while walking was born out of her own health concerns. She was frustrated about not being able to fit enough exercise into her week.

After starting this style of meeting, it no longer was a choice between getting things done and staying healthy, she says, “because I could potentially do both at the same time.”

See also: Sick of meetings? Make them matter

Walking meetings now account for about 70% of the exercise Merchant gets per week, she says. She still fits in a run or a gym session once a week.

But she has found it difficult to persuade colleagues to go on walking meetings, partly because of the ingrained ideas of what a meeting should entail.

“The cultural norm is to sit, which is why sitting is the smoking of our generation: everyone does it, and it’s so common, asking someone to be active definitely seems weird to everyone I ask,” she says.

“Also, some people are ashamed of how unfit they are.”

There are practical concerns as well. Those asked to go on walks frequently wonder how to take notes and are uneasy about being away from their mobile devices. But Merchant says that she still jots down notes on walks when an important point comes up and that cell phones are just distractions during meetings.

“Walking meetings result in undivided attention because the mobile device isn’t within eyesight, tempting you to step away