How many steps have you walked today?  Are you feeling smug having already clocked up the recommended 10,000 by lunchtime, or are you among the majority who only manage an average of 3-4,000 a day?

The health benefits of walking are well documented.  NHS Choices advise that stepping out on a regular basis can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.  But it seems it’s not just our health that can benefit from a less sedentary lifestyle – being more active can impact our effectiveness at work too.

In an article in the Sunday Times, Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, suggests that being chained to our desks all day is having the effect of “haemorrhaging productivity”.  He is calling for organisations to get staff up and moving around, and in particular wants to see them introduce the concept of ‘walking meetings’.

So how can you set a walking meeting up for success – and what are the benefits?

Find the right surroundings

The mood-boosting qualities of walking are significant.  A brisk walk kicks the feel-good endorphins into action and gives people space to clear their head and escape from the stresses of the job, even if only momentarily.  Getting out in the fresh air is, of course, easier for some than others.  If you’re lucky enough to work in rural surroundings or a landscaped office development, it doesn’t take too much effort to take some of your meetings outside.  If you’re in an urban environment, however, you will need to think carefully about location.  A busy road where everyone will be breathing in petrol fumes will be counter-productive!  If it’s not too far, consider taking a meeting to your nearest local park.  Even in the centre of London, it is possible to find the odd oasis of calm where people can escape from their desks.  A brisk walk to a coffee shop a few blocks away is another alternative.

Consider the practicalities

Don’t spring the idea of a walking meeting on people without warning.  Employees won’t want to teeter around in high heels or find themselves shivering without a coat, so let everyone know what you’re planning.  Make sure whichever route you choose is not too noisy so that people don’t have to shout to be heard.  Walking meetings will work best with small numbers – they are great for one-to-ones or up to a maximum of four so that people can engage properly in a discussion while on the move.  Accept that some people will need to be persuaded of the benefits before they will willingly take part – and keep routes short and accessible so that everyone can get involved, regardless of fitness level.

Reap the creative benefits

Researchers at Stanford University found that people’s creativity soars by around 60 per cent when they are walking.  It’s amazing how getting out of a sterile meeting room can provide a spark of energy and shift people’s mind-sets.  Try using walking meetings for occasions when you are looking to generate new ideas or find ways of overcoming road blocks.  Fresh air often leads to fresh thinking and can help people discover new ways around sticky issues or can help put what had previously seemed insurmountable problems into perspective.

Break down barriers

There’s nothing like walking side by side in the fresh air to break down hierarchical boundaries and put people at ease with each other.  It’s a great opportunity for managers to build closer relationships with their team members or to encourage colleagues who may sometimes struggle with each other to develop mutual understanding.  Being away from the formal confines of the office often encourages people to open up and speak more freely than they might otherwise.

Find other ways to get active

Don’t just limit yourself to walking meetings – find other ways to encourage employees to get more active throughout the day.  Set up a weekly ‘social’ lunchtime walk, launch a Fitbit challenge or bring an instructor in to run a regular yoga or pilates class (or find a local gym that runs one if you don’t have the space).  Anything you can do to get people out from behind their desk will pay dividends in terms of increased energy and performance as well as greater employee well-being.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.