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Workplace tip: Think outside your chair



Last modified: Friday, March 02, 2012
My officemate, Tina, and I agree: Our butts hurt.

We work together at what could be considered Concord's home office for get-off-your-can-and-get-moving, otherwise known as the Center for Health Promotion. It's great to find myself in a workplace that demands of me, for professional credibility, that I eat well, balance the demands of a working life with family and community needs, and take care of myself physically. I get to pay attention to these things for my own sake and also as a constant investigation into modern working conditions. I use what I discover in my work to inform what I teach as a wellness educator, specifically as a meditation teacher.

And what I've discovered of late is that I sit on my butt way too much.

Now, this might sound pretty hilarious, coming from a person who sits quietly on a professional level! It might interest you to know that meditation gives you the best fighting chance to learn how to sit properly. It also is equally good for learning how to move properly, among the many, many other things it gives you.

And while there are all kinds of other reasons to sit, I'm interested in proposing a way to reduce some of the less useful reasons. So, without further ado, I give you, the Walking Meeting.

The Walking Meeting goes like this: One to four people agree that the requirements of a given period of work mesh with the likelihood of successful completion of said requirements while simultaneously walking. Meaning, yeah, we can walk and talk at the same time.

Once this agreement has been reached, the one great hurdle to the Walking Meeting is in view. You will know if you successfully cleared the hurdle by observing the following: Everyone stands up. Then people begin to move toward a doorway.

Folks, I know, this is radical. I can hear your minds exploding with the many reasons why this could never work.

My boss won't allow it! I need my notepad (or iPad, eye on the department, fill-in-the-blank) or I can't be effective. The department (or office or world) will fall apart if I'm gone. If I take a walking meeting, everyone will want one! And it's damp outside today.

Of course there are good reasons not to walk and meet. You may need to engage deeply with some written materials or electronic media. There are often too many people involved to make a Walking Meeting effective. Sometimes privacy dictates that you close a door.

To investigate and determine the true versus imaginary barriers, I'm asking you to consider this to start: Begin by stipulating that at minimum 10 percent of all meetings could be Walking Meetings. Further, that for half of that 10 percent, the parties are willing or even excited about the idea of getting up and moving around. I therefore propose that 5 percent of all meetings start with the following question: Can we take this topic for a walk?

If you aren't immediately excited by this notion, let me offer some benefits I've noticed about the Walking Meeting.

First and most obvious, I can build some exercise into my day. Don't discount the value of walking through the hall, down the stairs, out the door, and down the block for 10 minutes, then turning it around for the return trip.

Then, as I'm walking, I get myself out of the box of the workplace. Have you noticed what a great head-clearing quality a quick walk provides? While you're inviting some fresh energy into your arms and legs, you're getting fresh air into your lungs and seeing new vistas.

This invariably gives you a fresh perspective and some new ideas popping up. Moving while thinking or learning gets the whole body in on the activity, which is a proven great way to develop and deepen neural connections.

And speaking of connections, walking rhythmically together in a common direction feels more like a team sport to me than sitting face-to-face across a table. If teamwork is called for with a given effort, why not start it off with a shoulder-to-shoulder walk?

I once co-led a back-office operation with a great manager, Joe. He and I plugged into our electronic calendar a walking half-hour check-in every day at 2 p.m., the biorhythmic dead zone of the workday.

We made it a rule that weather wasn't going to stop us, and we kept the right gear around to make that possible. With the daily commitment in our calendars, I remember our keeping those meetings three to four times per week.

It's possibly the best management decision we made together.

We tossed ideas around, reflected, sifted and boiled down a lot of stuff on those walks. I also learned everything I needed to know about golf, competitive poker, and what a really thoughtful manager Joe is. I wouldn't trade those meetings for anything.

So what are you waiting for? Get off your butt already!

(Margaret Fletcher is a meditation teacher and health outreach coordinator at the Center for Health Promotion.)