Whether you're in San Francisco or New York or a small town, get out of the office and use your city's sidewalks as a meeting space. You'd be surprised how productive it is.
For the past 3 years, I’ve been conducting walk-n-talks with every employee in AnswerLab. As my CEO role brought me further and further away from the day-to-day with team, I realized we needed more ways to keep the lines of communication open.
With our company focus on wellness and fitness (every new employee receives a FitBit), I felt that getting outside and walking together would be the perfect way to drive up our FitBit steps while having highly valuable exchanges. AnswerLab has primary offices in San Francisco and New York City, so our walk-n-talks have been along the Embarcadero with incredible views of Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge and in Madison Square Park with incredible views of small dogs, nature, and the Shake Shack line. Here are six reasons why walk-n-talks can provide huge benefits for you and your company:
1. Reinforce core values, vision, and culture. You are the best communicator and strongest proponent of your company’s values, vision and culture. When talking one-on-one with employees, you have the opportunity to discuss the company future, to praise team members for supporting values, and to identify behaviors that support or undermine culture.
2. Get a strong sense of morale during times of change. High growth companies, and particularly those in a high growth industry, experience enormous change in organizational structures, product offerings, processes, and employee makeup. People react to change in different ways and most folks aren’t as highly adaptable to change as you-- the master change agent of the company.
Recently two long-term employees graduated from AnswerLab for future client-side careers at Facebook and Amazon. I wondered how our NYC team was dealing with the change and thus took each team member in the office on a walk-n-talk in Madison Square Park. Although I had expected lots of concern, instead I found an extremely resilient team who were upbeat and looking forward to the future. Several commented that our culture of strong communication helped ease the transition. Gaining this insight helped the executive team understand how we could best prioritize our activities in support of the office.
3. Hear ideas that change your perspective on the company and the future. Everyone in the company has a unique perspective on your mission and how the company will achieve it. Over the past three years, I’ve received many questions in our walk-n-talks that helped me better refine our strategic plan. For example, on one walk, a team member asked about our efforts to move our research offerings to include in-vehicle interactions. With in-car interfaces becoming more digitally connected, this person reminded me that we had another big opportunity to consider for future expansion.
4. Contribute to your team’s professional development. Not everyone gets a chance to talk frequently with senior leaders. Hearing a strategic, higher-level perspective on the company, industry and growth in the market from the CEO, helps employees see they’re part of something larger and think beyond their day-to-day activities. It also gives the team a chance to polish how they frame questions and how they talk about their own work.
5. Promote wellness in the company. We sit tethered to our desks for too many hours. The simple act of getting out of the office and moving your blood provides a much-deserved break for your brain and a renewed sense of energy and perspective when you return. We are significantly more productive after getting up and walking.
6. Demonstrate compassion and empathy. CEOs make tough decisions, move at an extremely fast pace, and often jump to solving problems before stopping to exhibit an emotion or two. We often forget to share a sense of empathy for a team member’s situation while running at full speed. Walk-n-talks force you to slow down, listen intently, and take time to engage with employees at a very real and human level.
By getting to know your folks personally and what their long-term goals are, you can be thinking holistically about how your company can support them in the long-run - from career to social time to giving back. Insights from my one-on-one time with employees have had a huge impact on AnswerLab’s Holistic Talent Program and our selection as a Top 25 Great Place to Work for two years in a row.
AMY BUCKNER CHOWDHRY: Amy is chief executive and co-founder of AnswerLab, a digital experience research consultancy in San Francisco. In 2011, Amy received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Award. @amybuckner