“#Power brokers now take business meetings while walking”
Take Helaine Knapp, founder and CEO of boutique fitness brand CityRow, who met an investor for a fruitful meeting in Central Park — while logging some 20,000 steps. Starting at Bluestone Lane — near the East 90th Street entrance of the park — for some coffee, they did a lap around the reservoir before continuing their walk uptown.
“What would have been an in-person meeting with more formal business attire was a casual walk,” Knapp says. ”I think the relaxed nature of the experience lent itself to a more open dialogue and ability to forge a deeper connection.” As of late, the rowing entrepreneur may miss Irving Farm‘s vegan chocolate spelt loaf that she used to get at the coffeehouse’s location on 81st Street and Third Avenue, across the street from CityRow’s Upper East Side studio — but she’s not missing the endless back-to-back indoor appointments.
Adjusting to this new groove, many are wondering why they ever spent long, laborious hours huddled in a conference room or with their calves cramping beneath a metal bar stool.
Event planner Lynne Goldberg has similarly discovered a newfound love for promenade prattle. Since mid-March, Goldberg has been slammed rescheduling and replanning numerous weddings and events, so she decided to start power-walking dates with brides, clients or colleagues as a way to stir the creative juices.
“After a few times, I actually began to forget about the comfort of Starbucks as I was able to exercise, get things accomplished and stay sane at the same time,” she says. She’s quickly learned that certain types of people — especially outgoing brides, exercise junkies or outdoorsy types — prefer it to the typical coffee meeting. Plus, the lack of pretense has been liberating.
“There are no fashionable jackets, black pants and heels needed for power-walking meetings,” says Goldberg. “Makeup, touched-up roots and hair straighteners have been replaced with clean black leggings, sneakers, a face mask and hand sanitizer.” (Being the planner that she is, Goldberg totes along extra water bottles, granola bars and hand sanitizer for her companions.)
Of course, such walks don’t come without their challenges. First, there’s the awkward moment of how to say hello: Goldberg and a bride-to-be on her first walking meeting both froze in place and erupted into hysterics about 10 feet away from each other before simultaneously settling on air hugs.
And she says it can be tough to remember to stay 6 feet apart and to hear each other through the masks. “It can also be difficult to figure out which way to go when there are people coming at us in the opposite direction,” she says. “There’s a lot of laughter.”
Along with those much-needed chuckles, on balance it seems the pros of such meetings outweigh the cons. “These walking meetings are a great way to break free from the monotony of the traditional nine-to-five,” says Candace Alnaji, Esq., a workplace consultant and career strategist, who’s the founder of Alnaji Careers and Workplace Strategies. “Like other workplace wellness efforts, walking meetings will likely continue after the pandemic passes.
Alnaji admits there are some drawbacks, such as staying on task, making everyone feel included if you have multiple attendees, and keeping track of what’s discussed. And there are always constraints imposed by the vagaries of weather. Indeed, it might take you a few trial runs to figure out what works best for you. For some, that might mean hitting your phone’s record button as soon as you’ve cradled your cup of joe and hit the Bridle Path. For others, it might mean planning a mid-meeting bench break where you can break out your notebook and write down key points.
For Jonathan Valdez, a fashion and pop culture podcast host and writer in Harlem, it means amping up his body language. “It has taken some adjustment to learn how to read people’s faces all over again when half of it is covered for safety. I try my best to be a little more expressive [with my body language], so people can tell that I am smiling or being genuine,” says Valdez.
Recently, the Orange Juice & Biscuits podcast host interviewed chef Renee Blackman in Marcus Garvey Park, for which the two found a bench away from others so they could chat comfortably. “I never took advantage of the city parks before coronavirus, and now, I don’t see how I lived without them for so long,” Valdez says. “It is so lovely on a nice sunny day when the birds are happily chirping versus the noises of a busy restaurant or coffee shop of the past.”
Realtors, too, have pivoted to walking rendezvous with clients. Agent Steven Gottlieb of Warburg Realty has met up with several of his clients for a saunter. Pre-lockdown, Gottlieb frequented Quality Eats on Greenwich Avenue and Joseph Leonard or Jeffrey’s Grocery on Waverly Place with clients who also live in his Greenwich Village neighborhood.
These days, if he’s not picking up coffee for his ambling posse during working hours, Gottlieb is glad to support local businesses and pick up to-go drinks from the Rusty Knot on West Street, RockBar on Christopher Street or Coppelia on 14th Street for post-work happy hour strolls.
“We are both glad to get out of our respective apartments, and studies have shown that some good ideas can be generated while walking briskly outside, instead of sitting inside at a desk,” says Gottlieb. “Time is our scarcest resource, so holding a meeting while walking kills two birds with one stone.”
Some Big Apple residents want to kill two birds with two wheels over heels. Anastasia Chernikova, a marketing consultant and editor-in-chief of The Vivid Minds, a website dedicated to stories about how leaders overcome challenges, is grateful that quarantine has ignited a love for biking.
“After it got less scary in lockdown, about a month in, my colleague Nadia and I started meeting up on bikes all around the city,” says Chernikova, who discussed content marketing ideas and brainstormed prospective interview subjects. “We used to meet in a coffee shop or coworking spots such as Spacious before the virus hit, and we realized it wasn’t that nice to discuss everything over Zoom calls.”
Getting outside was a wakeup call in more ways than one.
“Similar to workouts or meditation, it feels like biking opens up another part of your brain — when it’s not on a busy street where you need to focus,” she adds, perhaps missing the empty streets of quarantine, though grateful for the city’s slow march to normalcy. “And it’s fun, which helps the ideas flow better.”
The new meeting etiquette
Alnaji recommends the following guidelines when embarking on a socially distanced walk:
- Wear your mask at all times and still maintain safe social-distancing of at least 6-feet apart between both parties.
- Carry an additional mask in the event yours breaks or your companion forgets to bring one.
- Bring hand sanitizer and re-apply whenever you touch a public surface.
- Skip the handshake, but greet each other with genuine enthusiasm. Be sure to “articulate your words clearly” in case your mask is hindering comprehension.
- Up your body language. “Since people can’t see your face, using effective body language more than you normally would also goes a long way toward friendly, professional communication,” Alnaji says.
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