I just returned from my 15 consecutive Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN! This year I designed and facilitated a highly interactive session called “Walking is Work: Don’t Call It A Break” with Ritu Sharma. I also lead a conference networking walk following the session. This post summarizes some thoughts and reflections. The slides and resources from the session can be found here.
This highly interactive session covered the research on why sitting is bad and why walking/standing is good, what individuals can do to bring more movement into their work day, how to change a culture of sitting, examples of nonprofit walking meetings, and tips. There were chairs in the room, set up theatre style. As people came into the room for the session, they immediately sat down – and started to settle in. To shift expectations, we let people know at the beginning of the that they could stand at anytime, pace, or sit — that we want to make standing an okay cultural norm. We, as the presenters, stood or walked for the whole session.
It was interesting that people sat at first, but after the first 15 minutes everyone was standing for most of the session. And, not when we asked them to stand to do an exercise like the stretching demo above or share pairs. But, during the dialogue we had. I felt that the level of interaction and the substance of the conversation was higher quality than if people were just sitting and passively listening. If a a body at rest or sitting stays at rest, so does the mind. A body in motion or standing stays in motion and so does the mind.
It also leads to better application of the information. During our session, colleague Susan Tenby stepped out for a conference call during the session. She came back and announced that she did as a walking meeting!
Some takeaways for me:
- Mind shift: The trigger to change your own thinking and get some motivation comes from this quote Dr. James Levine, Mayo Clinic, leading expert in medical research on the harmful effects of sitting: “Think of sitting a way to rest your body from standing, not the default.” In addition to thinking about how much exercise can I get this week, also think about how little sitting you can do. When you start thinking this way, you look for more ways to integrate standing or moving into your work. In fact, many participants wrote down as a takeaway action that they would start taking calls walking the halls or do standing meetings.
- 20/8/2 Rule: Cornell ergonomic expert Alan Hedges recommends 20 minutes sitting, eight minutes standing, two minutes walking. Repeat. The formula also improves productivity and posture, studies show. While this may sound a little prescriptive, it is based on health research and simple to put into practice.
- Motivation and Organizational Culture: Individual motivation is very important to integrating movement into your work. In some organizations, it is a stealth activity – that is people walk together informally a lunch time for the health benefit. But if moving more at work is a cultural norm promoted by leadership it becomes more powerful and sustainable
- Standing Desks: As research on sitting becomes more mainstream as well as standing desks, nonprofit staffers are asking their bosses for standing desks. We heard stories of the office “communal standing desk” – where you can go work if you need to. Later during the walk, a participant told me the story of how she requested to use her year’s office supply budget to purchase a VariDesk. Sadly, we also heard stories of standing desks not being used!
- Leadership Technique: Leaders that do walking meetings can accommodate the many requests for their time. One leader has a standing walking meeting on Wednesday and lets staff know that they are welcome to join him to discuss issues.
- Pace: Not everyone walks at the same pace, how do you handle that in a walking meeting. Gina Schmeling had some great advice: “My run group in Brooklyn has a ‘slowest sets the pace’ rule for social runs. Walking or running together is not racing. Racing is a performance or test, which we all face, but training and walking together are about the group, not the individual. My coach calls the slowest by name, so we hear ‘Gina sets the pace.’ Beep go the watches and apps, off we go.”
- Equipment: For walking meetings on your phone, invest in a good pair of noise canceling headsets. Also, don’t forget about hydration for your walk. And, of course, good shoes for walking and stylish walking shoes are a good investment.
Following the session, I designed and lead a “netwalking meeting.” I was lucky to have Heidi Simon in the group who works for America Walks, that focuses on making American cities more walkable – and is a key resource for the many individual and collective benefits of walking. The netwalking meeting is a little organic. As a leader, you don’t act as a tour guide – you just lead the way on the route. People can pair up and connect with other people as needed. I loved the walk we took – down to the River in Austin. It was refreshing. One idea that I learned during morning session came from Gina Schmeling. It was the answer to the question: How do you address pace in a larger walking meeting? Some people walk fast, some slow. Gina suggested letting people know that the walk is a communal activity and that we have honor each other’s pace and find a group pace. I applied this advice to this walk and it worked! People enjoyed it so much that it Debra Askanase organized another walk for the following day.
One of the reasons why I love this whole notion of walking is resonating with me is because cover the I-We-It leadership framework for transformative social change. The “I” is everything that the leader can do to be a better leader, which includes the mindfulness that walking can create. The “We” is the collective or network – which includes the network of staff inside of your office and your professional network. Finally, the IT is the system and design thinking. If you take this lens to walking, you can see that it has economic, social, transportation, community health, and other benefits.
Want to talk about walking or standing as part of nonprofit work? Join this Facebook Group created by Lisa Colton.