Near the end of 2016, Ben Oh and other executives from Fully decided to have an off-site meeting to discuss some key initiatives for 2017. It was a pivotal time for the company, which sells and designs desks, chairs and things that keep bodies moving. They were growing and in the process of rebranding from Ergot Depot to Fully.
“We needed to do some blue-sky thinking to align our perspectives,” Oh recalls. “I had only been with the company a few months at that point; everything was new and different. But until that ‘meeting,’ I didn't fully get it.”
That meeting was one Oh needed not just to prepare for mentally. He also needed to lace up his boots and pull up the hood on his jacket for the 10-mile, rainy-day trek on Mt. Hood.
“With our agenda items in mind, we simply had a conversation. Stream of consciousness, what's coming up for each of us? There were no awkward silences because they were filled with the tranquil sound of raindrops and streams,” Oh says. “None of it felt forced, but it was also remarkably cohesive. We stayed on topic, we challenged ideas, we reached common ground.
"We ended the hike drenched head to toe, but completely aligned. On our drive back to Portland, we stopped by the ZigZag Inn for a burger. We wrote down some next steps, and continued the discussion all the way home.”
Emphasis on active work
A number of executives in the Pacific Northwest – a place known for its active lifestyle and natural splendor – believe like Oh, that there’s a time and place to pore over charts and graphs on site, in conference rooms. But walking meetings and discussions while bicycling, hiking or being active, increasingly have become a great way to think out loud with colleagues, connect with potential clients or partners, and exercise.
“I almost always get to and from meetings via bicycle or walking so that I can get my exercise in while I'm in transit. I'm big on walking and talking as much as possible when I meet with people,” says Karina Miller, a Portland-based executive with Swift HR Solutions. “And then I'm always asking new people I meet in business if they want to go hiking, biking or join me in an organized run or other event. I figure it's a great way to spend more time with people.”
For instance, Miller has walked the Tilikum Bridge with Cathey Armillas, a Portland and New York City-based author and speaker who walks bridges all over the world. As an HR executive, Miller says she sees other wellness-related trends that allow for being active, if not necessarily combining exercise and networking.
“Work-from-home policies and 100 percent virtual companies often make for great lifestyle companies,” she says. “One of my clients has people, including the owners, who travel and work from their RVs. One of their employees is at Whistler in his RV right now, so when he's not working, he's skiing.”
Similarly, Lisa Hill, a freelance PR executive, trained with a colleague for a Mt. Baker climb as part of the American Lung Association’s Climb for Clean Air program. During their weekly training hikes in the Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood, they shared client experiences and brainstormed opportunities.
Like golf in its heyday, walking, biking, and other activities and forms of exercise have become ways to socialize and strike deals. Meetings industry research also shows that millennials seek more active options for teambuilding events, with nearly 60 percent of survey respondents in the fifth annual State of Meetings Industry survey saying they are most interested in adventure and active teambuilding exercises.
Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter have all been known to favor walking meetings.
Fostering a collaborative spirit
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.
Merchant explains that by walking and exercising side-by-side, you are reinforcing the perspective that you are working on something together.
"I bike commute because it's a more efficient way to get to the office and to meetings, and because I don't always have the time to get to the gym,” says Leslie Carlson, a principal with Brink Communications. “Because our company does so much work in transportation, however, I've been pleasantly surprised by the networking opportunities that arise in the bike lane.
I've had many impromptu meetings with clients and partners (once even with someone from the Mayor's office) – and I've even scheduled a few opportunities to ride together with a client or partner to a meeting, getting business done while moving ourselves across town."