A recent post on HBR warning about the unhealthy consequences of ‘sitting’ (in other words, the amount of time we spend on our backsides!) in the workplace and the healing and creative advantages of walking has got me thinking about how much good communication is lost by chair-based apathy. The post, from businesswoman Nilofer Merchant points out that we spend an alarming 9.3 hours a day on a chair as opposed to 7.7 hours in bed. That’s a lot of sitting. Certainly, when I think back to my early working days (in an insurance office) I would spend much of my day walking up and down stairs and across the office floor to actually speak to people (oh, how retro). Now I work from home and I sit down for most of my day. No wonder I have back trouble (although since the new year I have taken to walking at least three miles every day, which I’m loving). Nilofer’s HBR post neatly sets out (as if we didn’t know) the impact on our health of ‘too much sitting’ (a “lethal activity” according to one doctor), so why aren’t organisations doing more to stop their workers from spending so much time on their derrière? And is there a role for us communicators here?
We could start by encouraging stand-up and walking meetings. As Ms Merchant discovered when she started holding ‘hiking meetings’, the quality of interaction and outcome actually improves when you meet on the move. Your concentration improves, mobiles are removed and creativity goes through the roof (well, it would if there was a roof!). There’s plenty of evidence about the creative benefits of walking too, as I have mentioned before. The great outdoors removes the physical barriers of the workplace and exposes us to natural stimuli, which feeds our brain with ideas, inspirations and perspectives. Team walking, or just generally meeting standing up, is more sociable too. It gives us the opportunity to interact with the whole team, collectively or individually, rather than just the ones who are sitting up our end of the table. Walking allows for natural periods of silence, during which we can reflect and think – all very healthy in a creative context. In a typical sit-down business meeting, we don’t tolerate silence. We expect someone to be talking the whole time. Not everyone wants to be dragged out on a five mile hike up a hill (I do) but it could just be a stroll around the block or a walk in park.
I once worked in Berkeley Square in London and we would sometimes use the square for impromptu team meetings. It was the most creative time of my working life. We communicators should team up with the people who look after health and wellbeing in our organisations and do more to encourage comms on the move – walk ‘n’ talk. We should be pushing, and role modelling, new and creative ways to interact. For most organisations, encouraging people to undertake the serious business of work in anything other than a corporate environment is too big a leap of faith for them to take, which in many ways underlines the way companies suffocate creativity. Most managers would be worried about peer judgement if they were seen to be taking their team out for a picnic meeting or a creative hike. That, of course, is not a reason to not do it. Maybe we can start by running a few campaigns to encourage innovative interactions? Putting all our comms online may have its benefits, but the health and wellbeing of the receiver is not one of them.