Is exercise the future of networking? A new generation of workers are choosing Asics over Aperol

Kate Schoff
Women's Marathon Olympic Trials
A new kind of "speed networking" (Source: Getty)

Spritzer or sprint finish? For years, summer in the City has involved the same vintage, slightly pedestrian routine. Workers spilling out onto every available inch of pavement to enjoy the evening sun with a glass or two of their favourite tipple.

A new generation of City workers, however, is choosing a different way to socialise and build their professional network. Eschewing the pub for park runs and sporting challenges, this new band of “corporate athletes” is more likely to be donning Nikes or New Balances – even as the temperature tips 30 degrees. They are bringing new meaning to the term “speed networking”.

This week, the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge – a pacey, early evening 5.6km run at the beautiful, riverside setting of Battersea Park – returns to London for its thirtieth anniversary. This is the tenth year the event has reached capacity, with over 28,000 total entrants from 776 companies attending over two evenings.

Millennials from corporates and financial services firms across the capital are increasingly seeking fun and active ways to deepen relationships with their colleagues and establish new connections with prospective clients. So is exercise the future of networking?

The physical benefits

Researchers at the University of Essex have found that mood and well-being are increased significantly after as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise.They say walking meetings have grown in popularity over recent years, fuelled by the belief that physical movement stimulates creativity. Encounters with other professionals based around exercise could prove more fruitful than sedentary ones.

Read more: Why those ultra-marathons could actually be a bad idea

One of the biggest fears around networking is that conversation will run dry. Many people find it difficult to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and dread the awkward silences of initial meetings. If you’re running or playing sport, neither party faces the pressure to keep conversation flowing constantly. And if you get stuck, you can always talk about the game in hand, or developments in the sport in general, as a kind of crutch.

It would be wrong to claim that exercise is right for every networking event. As with those based around drinking, events involving exercise are not everyone’s idea of a good time, particularly if they are physically strenuous and require prior training. But there is one group – millennials – which has taken to networking events like the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge particularly enthusiastically.

Suited to millennials

Millennials differ drastically in their approach to building business relationships. Research has found that wellness and health is a key concern for young employees with an active lifestyle influencing all parts of their lives, even at work. We see a clear trend that the group has a desire to combine networking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, explaining the booming popularity of corporate sporting events.

Sport can be good for retention, too. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that, if given the choice, one in four millennials would quit his or her job to simply try something different, and 44 per cent are considering leaving their employer within the next two years. When it fails to match their expectations or to provide “meaningful” connections, they are more likely to move on.

Read more: Millennials are more outward looking than any other generation

Introducing sporting challenges is one of the ways companies can adapt to these changing preferences, helping employees stay active and engaged by blurring the boundaries between work and play.

So how far might businesses have to go to retain younger talent and will the ethos of the corporate sporting event trickle down to other areas? Client meetings on kayaks? Townhalls streamed live from the track? Conferences on the cricket pitch?

Maybe these will be a step too far. But as the millennials become more senior within their firms, the dynamics of all sorts of internal and external interactions are open to disruption.

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