At this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, I was thrilled to co-facilitate an interactive session called “Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Using Tech for Healthier Work and Life” with Aliza Sherman (who is my co-author for the Happy,Healthy Nonprofit Book), and Gina Schmeling, Director of Individual Giving, Hazon.
Gina and I share a passion for walking as work which includes walking meetings, standing desks and more. We’ve had a great time sharing tips and discussion with many other nonprofits professionals in an open Facebook Group called “Take A Walk“for nonprofit professionals interested in walking meetings and other ways to bring movement into their nonprofit workplaces. This group was started by Lisa Colton after a session I designed and facilitated last year called “Walking as Work.” So, was delighted that Gina was able to join Aliza and I for this year’s NTC session on the topic.
Gina and I hiked the Dish at Stanford, one of my favorite walks. She shared some great tips about how to get your nonprofit to shift from a sitting culture to one which includes walking meetings and standing desks. In advance of next week’s “National Walking Day,” I did an interview with Gina about how her organization’s culture is changing one sneaker at a time.
Tell me about your organization, Hazon?
Hazon is a leader in the Jewish Innovation space, focusing on environmental sustainability, outdoor experiences and education (multi-day group bike rides, youth nature programs), and healthy practices in the areas of food and farming. Our mission is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, and a healthier and more sustainable world for all. We bring a Jewish lens to sustainability outreach.
You joined Hazon’s staff after many years working as an independent consultant where you had flexibility during the day to pursue one of your passions, running and walking – and incorporating movement as part of your work. But, Hazon had more of a sitting culture. How did you start to shift the culture, one sneaker at time?
I didn’t want to seem too loony in my mission to get our office moving. Since Hazon works with outdoor experiences, connecting people to the natural world, it was a good fit for an office walk. Because we run large group bike rides (all over the US and in Israel) the office culture prioritized bikes as the mode of moving. That meant a cycling commute, bike parked for the day, then another commute. I introduced, with help and support, the idea of a Weekly Afternoon Walk.
Inspiring colleagues to walk and stand was made easier by Hazon’s organizational culture. We strive to make ourselves happy and healthy as well as the communities we support. My ideas and strategies about movement took root easily, and already more of my co-workers are thinking up new ways to move at work.
How did you communicate about the “Weekly Afternoon Walk” or “WAW” to encourage and grow participation?
I needed help — from people and tech. I reached out to our amazing and thoughtful Operations Manager about how to get this going. She suggested making it a regular time on our staff Google cal. We chose a time generally not booked with regular meetings (key), not during lunch time, and at the start of the week. At Hazon, we try to schedule meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays, and when possible, leave other days open for work and other collaborations. We picked Tuesdays at 2PM. She put it on the Cal, and I started promoting.
I used some social media tricks to garner interest. I didn’t tag people, but each week would email the group to say the WAW was on, and promote it a little. Slowly, it became a thing. At first, one staffer joined me. A few weeks later, two. Then three. We did have to cancel because of terrible weather, but once it was mild — wow! — all of a sudden we had 12 walkers.
How did you plan the logistics for the walk?
Each week, we did the same walk: to the East River, down to South Ferry, back to the office. I kept strict time on my watch, making sure everyone was back at the office in 20 minutes. I wanted to earn the trust of managers and allow staff to plan their days. If the walk became an amble, and we just wandered around, it wouldn’t become a reliable, regular thing. Each week I take a selfie of the group. My goal is to have so many of us, we need to ask someone else to take the photo.
Is the “WAW” completely dependent on you or has it become a shared workplace ritual?
I’ve been away the last two Tuesdays, and one of my co-walking co-workers has taken the lead! He emailed around, led the walk last week, and this week, even though our entire staff was at a work retreat in Northwest CT, he emailed me to say “the walk is on!” He went by himself.
What are your tips for integrating walking meetings into the nonprofit workplace?
- Make it fun and functional. This isn’t going out to hang out and chat, but there is a social, connecting, real time human quality.
- Take it seriously. Don’t leave at 2:15 if you say 2PM is the time. I think of it like an organized race for runners: start on time, be ready, have what you need and come back to the office on time.
- Ask that folks arrive “Ready to Walk” (umbrellas, coats, sunglasses, etc.) No dallying. Keep the timeframe tight.
- Setting the Group Pace: If you have slower walkers in the group, let them set the pace. Come back together if possible. With fast walkers, you may cover more distance/get more steps, and with slower ones less. But that’s ok.
- Take Advantage of Relationship Building Opportunity: This is a unique way to learn about colleagues, their plans, work and interests. I really value this time, and it makes us a more connected group. I have noticed we now have some unscheduled, organic “let’s go walk” meetings or times outside when possible. It’s nice to get out for fresh air, revive the work day, and wake up the brain with another person.
Another way to incorporate movement into work is to have a standing desk or treadmill desk? What is your experience in your workplace?
I knew from your blog, and hearing from other people in office spaces that standing desks would work well with my running and walking life. When I consult, I work at home, and use the kitchen island – thing as a standing workspace.
When I returned to regular staff life, after one day of sitting my brain felt like mud. And my butt hurt! I ordered a Varidesk, and used it for many months in the open, shared space in our offices. It was often immediately noticeable to visitors and people arriving to work if I had it up. When people were curious, I showed them how it worked, and told them how much I enjoyed it.
One colleague had one, but hadn’t used it. Another asked her if she could have it, so they moved it. Now, we were a two-person standing desk office. One thing I wanted to be clear about was that I purchased it, and I believe it was worth every cent. I’m aware it may be a stretch to buy one for some staff, and whenever I travel, I invite people to login at my computer if they’d to try it.
One other peer recently hacked a standing desk with a stack of books for his monitor, and a turned over bin for his keyboard. I saw him work all day on his feet! I told him he can — and should sit — at some points. He seemed really happy and excited to put his handmade standing desk together.
Thank you Gina for sharing your story! If your organization or if you are trying to do more movement as part of work, please join our Take A Walk Group and share your success. We’ve included many stories like Gina’s in our upcoming book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit and you can pre-order it here.