With cell phones erasing the need for employees to stay tethered to a single location, it's more tempting than ever to pace around while on business calls. Based on how the brain works, walking to kingdom come and back while chatting actually makes solid scientific sense and isn't reason to alert the etiquette police.
On-the-Phone Pacing and Your Noodle
Over time, as you talk face-to-face with people, your brain connects elements such as vocal tone, word choice, emotion, and gesture all together. When you talk on the phone, the physical feedback you'd normally get isn't available. The connections you've formed, however, mean that the parts of the brain associated with movement still fire.
The brain basically fills in what it perceives as missing, and you translate your emotional responses into physical movements. Pacing or performing other physical gestures as you talk on the phone at work thus is a somewhat involuntary physiological response based in years of social conditioning.
Practical Business Applications for the Brain Saying "Go!"
Knowing that it's natural for people to want to move around when they're on the phone, and considering that movement has been associated with higher creativity, businesses might do well to rethink their sit-in-your-seat approach to calls. For instance, executives could insure that individual offices are oriented so as not to inhibit movement, or they could hold non-video conference calls in larger areas so that the person who has the floor has a choice about whether to be physically engaged. Similarly, individuals who work in call centers might benefit from having sit-stand or standing stations.
How to Deal With a Distracting Pacer
If you can't beat them, join them. Start pacing. Just kidding.
Pacing while on the phone at work is a perfectly normal reaction to the absence of a stimulus you normally get during conversation. Still, if you're distracted by someone doing it, politely let him or her know you're having trouble and offer an alternative, such as a work-appropriate fidget toy, to strike a compromise.