“I turned all my phone calls into walking meetings and I’ve never been so productive”

This National Walking Month, why not turn your endless Zooms or in-person chats into walking meetings? Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi has been giving meetings on the move a go.

If your schedule looks anything like mine, on any given day, you could spend up to four hours in meetings. It’s excruciating, especially if they’re on Zoom or Teams. Much as I want (and need) to concentrate, the time is inevitably spent scrolling through Twitter, answering emails and generally flicking between tabs – missing much of the conversation on screen.

And then I discovered that Martin Lewis (he of Money Saving Expert fame) does walking meetings. He takes all his phone calls and non-video calls outside, on a walk (and if it’s raining, he does them on a treadmill). That habit led him to rack up an average of over 25,000 steps a day. Martin’s not the only one; Steve Jobs swore by them and Mark Zuckerburg is also a fan.

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Now, I’m a pretty active person, but concentration is not my forte at all. At school, I was diagnosed as a kinaesthetic learner, meaning that information is best absorbed when moving. Some folk can sit and concentrate at a desk for hours without moving, but for many of us, that’s both impossible and horrifying.

So, I decided to take a few of my meetings outdoors to see if any benefits could be gleaned from moving to the beat of someone reading stats out loud.

The IRL outdoor meeting

On Wednesday, I had a meeting scheduled for 1pm. In my mind, that’s an unacceptable time for a meeting because it’s peak lunch hour. So, I demand that my fellow attendees join me for a double lap of the office’s local park before accompanying me to buy some mid-afternoon snacks.

It’s worth flagging that this meeting includes someone senior to me, and that person really doesn’t want to go outside. But once we’re out walking, the conversation starts to flow. I’m able to push back on proposals that I’d otherwise be too self-conscious to query. It feels like I’m better able to articulate my points than I am when slouched over a desk or lounging in a meeting room. After we’ve concluded our work chat, we start chatting about everyday life and I learn more about both my boss and my other colleague, who also joined us for the meeting, in 20 minutes than I’ve learned over the past couple of months.

The only issue is that the pollen count feels like it’s at near-apocalyptic levels (and I don’t even have hayfever). It feels like we’re being assaulted by histamines at every turn, which makes talking without coughing quite difficult and results in me having a bone-shaking coughing fit in the supplement aisle at Holland & Barrett – not ideal, post-pandemic.

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The small outdoors Teams meeting

OK so Money Martin doesn’t do video calls on the move but who actually rings anyone anymore? The day after the successful park meeting, I decided to take all my meetings outside. The only snag is that I’m in video meetings from 9.15am to 12pm, so I pack my rucksack, sling on my barefoot trainers and head out, headphones at the ready.

The sun’s shining, the park is in bloom, and at first, I think I’ve actually found the answer to every work prayer: if you can spend time in nature while doing work, you’re winning all ways round. That is until I go two steps beyond the park gates and the signal drops to one bar. Slowly but surely, the faces and voices on my screen grind to a robotic halt and I’m forced to power walk to the top of a steep hill in the hope of reconnecting – all the while having my phone out in front of me, looking like some kind of spoof character.

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On my way to reconnection, I spot a bloke running barefooted backwards up the same hill, and a memorial to a dog which has a plaque inscribed with “You left a pawprint on my heart,” which I pass just as my colleague is talking about covering Spain’s menstrual leave.

Back on the main road, it’s plain sailing and as I’m dodging school kids and people carriers, I deliver my plan of action for the day in a slightly less fluent way than usual as I don’t have my diary in front of me. All in all, the morning meeting takes me around the park and a mile to Morrisons. 

The company-wide video call

As my next meeting is in exactly 15 minutes, I do some necessary grocery shopping, and by the time I’m done, I’m on my way home. This time, we’ve got way more people on the call and it’s a pitching meeting which requires more thought-out contributions.

I turn my camera off for much of it, treating it more like a podcast. It’s amazing how intently you listen to what people are saying when you’re not being distracted by what they look like or Slack notifications in the background. I could probably recite the ideas that every one of the 14 people in that meeting put forward. And again, although my own ideas weren’t that honed, I didn’t feel as embarrassed about putting them forward as I might have done had I been at my desk or in a meeting room.

By the time the meeting ends, I’ve clocked up nearly 11,000 steps, and it’s only 11am. I’ve also done the shopping that I was going to do after work. I’ve only had one coffee, no breakfast and I’m relieved when I’m told that I don’t need to join the next meeting. 

Are working meetings worth the faff?

I’ve definitely paid more attention while walking than I normally do sitting down, and it’s increased the amount of time I’ve spent outside in nature. Normally, that spare 15 minutes between meetings would be used to start on a new feature, answer emails or make another cup of coffee, but being out and about, there’s no time to get back to my desk before the next meeting so you’ve got an opportunity to mentally prepare for the next event.

The only things to master are writing everything down in a pocket notebook so you’re prepared in case you need present anything (or take action points), and working out if you really need to have your camera on if you are taking video calls alfresco. I felt like a total lemming holding my phone in front of my face while pacing the streets of east London, and having everything in video mode puts a massive strain on even the strongest of signals.

Going forwards, I’ll definitely take as many meetings as I can outside, but I’m going to start asking if some of them can just be regular, analogue phone calls. On the days when we’re not in the office, do we really need to see each other’s faces umpteen times over a nine hour period? 

Images: Getty

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