If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that being outside is something we often take for granted. The benefits of being outside on a regular basis are undeniable. Especially in Austin, as we move into summer, it’s enticing to spend more time in nature.
Since jobs have moved from strictly in-person to a more flexible, possibly remote situation, many more meetings are happening in spaces that generate creativity. Taking the opportunity to collaborate with others can be elevated to a new level simply by changing the usual environment.
I interviewed Chris Eddy of Kammock Outdoor Gear to discuss the benefits he has seen with the incorporation of getting more time outside and work productivity. Eddy put together a compelling narrative that nature inspires motivation in a community:
During our interview, Eddy spoke about the opportunity that open space provides to change the mindset, think more clearly and increase creativity. He has seen walking meetings inspire new ideas. The restoration and rejuvenation felt by being in nature enhance mood, promotes a healthy lifestyle and are inclusive for everyone.
In 2015, Harvard Business Review wrote an article on the benefits of walking meetings. Employees who took to the streets for meetings, as opposed to boardrooms, offices or coffee shops, reported greater cognitive focus, higher creativity and more engagement. Walking meetings also provided an environment that broke down barriers between managers, supervisors and coworkers. Walking meetings allow for side-by-side engagement on a level playing field.
In 2020, Miao Cheng of the University of Hong Kong produced research that illustrated how when two people walk side-by-side, or in synchronization, it elevates their social connection. When walking together, nonverbal communication kicks in, and the participants feel a greater bond.
According to Eddy, “At our core, we simply inspire people to spend more time outdoors, together. That last part is key. A bit more sunshine and fresh air have obvious health benefits. But connecting people is powerful. It allows us improved retention, company culture and employee satisfaction.”
If we know being outside brings about creativity, connectedness, camaraderie and greater cognitive function, we need to know how to best put it into practice.
Here are ways to invite someone to a walking meeting or a meeting outside:
Step 1: Give advanced notice of the intent to spend the meeting outside. Allow room for the other person to say no, but plenty of opportunities to say yes! Giving someone a heads-up gives them the chance to plan to wear more comfortable clothes, bring a change of shoes or plan around your meeting if the weather is warm or humid.
Step 2: Look for a destination that inspires creativity. This could be a walk through the grounds at the Texas Capitol, a stroll around Lady Bird Lake or a meandering through campus at The University of Texas at Austin. Keeping a destination in mind is also helpful when including someone who doesn’t have long-distance stamina for a walk. The destination could be somewhere to sit or to stop in the shade and talk!
Step 3: Limit group size for greater participation. Walking in a group of two to four people allows each person an opportunity to share, proximity to each speaker and intimacy to feel comfortable explaining “out-of-the-box” ideas.
Step 4: Know your audience. Based on the people invited, decide if the time you spend outside should be shaded and paved or sunny and with more terrain. Keep everyone comfortable and at their fitness level — this is meant to be inclusive for all.
With the weather turning to the incredible feel of summer, the draw to spend time outside in nature has an undeniable pull. The sweet Austin breeze on your face, the beauty of the Hill Country and the stunning views of downtown are inspiring. Walking meetings are an amazing way to take advantage of the magnificence around us. Research shows that not only does being outside promote creativity but walking in step also provides an inclusive environment allowing all to be engaged and on “equal footing.”
Need an idea for places to walk? AllTrails has a great list of trails around Austin!
Happy strolling and collaborating. I hope the time you spend in nature brings you great joy and inspiration!
About the Author
Coach Kati Epps is the founder of MyBody GX with a background in chemistry from Colorado State University, an ACE certified personal trainer, health coach and nutrition specialist.