Taking Steps to Innovate: Walking Meetings at Oracle

User experience (UX) is about more than pixels on the screen. UX covers all the areas that workers crisscross on their way to getting their jobs done. It’s an appreciation that what happens offline can be as important as what happens online. It’s about exploring the established ways of working and emerging trends, and understanding how people connect and communicate. Even the smallest, stickiest job aid offers an opportunity for UX innovation in the workplace. Sometimes inspiration is right under your nose. 

Watching my Oracle co-workers, a diverse crowd that spans a wide range of ages and cultures and with a myriad of skills and experiences to share, gives me a window into modern ways of working that others have to pay to observe. Sure, we don’t have a beach volleyball court on the Oracle HQ campus (works for me, as I don’t do shorts). But we do have a beautiful lake.

Plain Sailin' at Oracle's Lake Larry. Where shorts are not needed to be cool.

Oracle’s Redwood Shores HQ campus is clustered around a spectacular lake, affectionately referred to as 'Lake Larry' by the locals.

It’s around that lake that David Haimes, a Senior Director in Oracle Financials Applications Product Development, changed the way he manages his team by introducing walking meetings. I caught up with him to learn more. 

A reasonably active chap to start (by U.S. standards), David was already swimming in the evenings and running at weekends. Then, his wife gave him a FitBit. With that little sensor on the wrist recording his daily activity stats, one glance at the FitBit dashboard analytics revealed those workdays when his activity levels were flatlining. Now, there was an opportunity to put some peaks back into those charts if he could figure out a way to merge work and play.

David recalled hearing about walking meetings on NPR and being impressed with the health and work benefits delivered. He read the good things Kaiser Permanente  (disclosure: an Oracle customer) shared about the practice, and saw the YouTube video about it too. 

So, come January 2014, David introduced walking meetings for his directs, walking around Lake Larry for their one-on-ones. The results are pretty impressive. 

Keepin' it simple on Doctor's (Pepper's) Orders. David Haimes and Floyd Teter.


Keepin' it simple. David Haimes (@dhaimes), and Oracle partner UX champ Floyd Teter (@fteter) of IO Consulting, walk the walk and talk the talk of today’s applications at Oracle HQ.

David’s blogged about his experiences to an eager audience, explaining how walking meetings enabled higher rates of problem solving and creativity in the team. Freed from the confined atmosphere of a building or office and out in the (usually) sunny Silicon Valley environment, he’s found that “meetings are more productive…we can actually talk through those issues we need to discuss, think about them clearly and agree on actions”.  And, those ‘let’s-take-a-walk’ moments are also a perfect way to broach tricky subjects that might be harder to bring up across a desk or on email.

Not only that. His daily mileage has gone from 2 to 3 miles a day to 4 to 6 miles a day!

Inspired by David’s initiative, co-workers in Oracle are starting their own walking meetings, too. Fans of this new “mobile” approach to workforce management name check Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as early adopters, and there’s even a walking meetings hashtag. But, walking meetings are not just a cool thing to do. They come with business benefits.

So, what could this mean for applications UX?

David records ideas and actions during his walking meetings using iPhone apps and voice technology. Plenty of mobile tools are out there already to choose from, and we will surely see new wearables emerge for unobtrusively capturing notes and ideas as people move about. 

However, I don’t think it’s the technology foot that we need to put forward first. It’s the context—people at work connecting with each other across traditional boundaries to creatively solve shared challenges. That is the opportunity—how to enable people to connect and collaborate even more effectively—that we might look to enhance. The best wearable technology fits the user, and not the other way around. That’s the step we need to take to start innovating from how we observe how, such as taking walking meetings.

FitBit Dashboard
FitBit dashboard: Work-based opportunities for such data are emerging.

Then, there’s that FitBit (and similar devices). There are rich possibilities for what we might do with such data gathered seamlessly by sensors and then served up as dashboard analytics on a smart phone for immediate action or on a desktop for more in-depth analysis. Think about what this sort of aggregated data might mean for how we measure and manage corporate healthcare, wellness programs, employee availability, productivity, and so on.

Walk this way!

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