10/14/2014 07:08 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

How I Benefited From A Summer Of Walks With Coworkers I Didn't Know

It's lunchtime on any given weekday. Look around. Do you see your coworkers? Most likely they are sitting at their desks, frantically trying to meet another deadline while scarfing down forkfuls of salad. Just like you. And most of the time, just like me as well.

But over the summer things changed. At The Huffington Post, where I've worked for the past two years, many employees were not sitting at their desks in the middle of the day. They were out walking -- with coworkers they'd never met before. And their phones and digital devices? Surrendered at the door.

Lots of companies preach about the importance of work-life balance. Yet not many of them practice it. But The Huffington Post does. Really. And I'm not just saying that because Arianna Huffington signs my paychecks. I'm saying that for many reasons, one of which is a contest Arianna announced in June, the Thrive Summer Challenge.

It worked like this: employees were encouraged to get out of the office -- to go for lunch or out on a walk -- with a colleague they hadn't yet met. We were to leave our phones behind and to post an "away" message on Gchat: "I'm away from my desk without my phone -- deliberately."

The aim was to increase collaboration among colleagues, free up creative space in the brain and help people be more productive upon their return to the office. The HuffPoster who met the most colleagues by Labor Day was to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the HuffPost international office of their choosing -- whether it be India or Japan, Brazil or France -- where they were to take the team out to lunch.

I won that contest.

Of course I'm thrilled to win a trip. But the contest resulted in a lot more than the chance to visit Tokyo. As someone who is inextricably linked to her devices, known for Gchatting a coworker less than three feet away, the contest gave me an excuse to visit with dozens of people I otherwise would never have gotten to know. I met reporters fresh out of university, who explained how the teaching of journalism had changed since I went to college in the 1980s. I met HuffPost Live producers who revealed which celebrities were the nicest (loved this!), I met fellow editors I'd seen around the newsroom but with whom I'd never actually shared real face-to-face conversations.

One of the colleagues I walked with was Francina Morel, who works for HuffPost Live and who was one of the four runners-up, all of whom will receive a spa package. She said that, before the contest, she felt as though she only knew people via email and had a hard time putting faces to names. During the contest, she enjoyed hearing about the projects other people were working on. She said every walk was special -- particularly one with colleague Teri D'Angelo.

"We were walking west on 8th street and basically bumped into Yoko Ono and we immediately turned around and followed her like true stalkers. It was so funny and I think Teri and I will be talking about it for the rest of our lives. Ha!" she said, adding, "You never know when you'll be looking to thrive and you magically bump into the ultimate thriver (Yoko). All in all, it was just a great experience. I might not have won a trip to Tokyo ... but I met people I now say hi to in the hallways. Things that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise."

Beyond meeting people, the contest reaped benefits for our health too. Indeed, there is real validity to getting up from your desk and moving around -- as often as possible. A 2011 study found that sitting more than six hours a day raises your risk of death, even if you work out. More specifically, women who sat six or more hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die over a 13-year period -- even if they exercised -- than people who sat less than three hours a day. And men who sat more than six hours a day had an 18 percent higher risk of death over a 13-year period than men who sat three or fewer hours a day.

That's reason enough to use your lunch break to, well, take an actual break. Just going for a 15- to 20-minute walk can help you sustain concentration and energy levels throughout the day. Even getting away from Gchat alone is a good thing. A recent study out of George Mason University found that incessant Gchat forces you to constantly multitask, which can make you less effective at your work.

Since taking a job with The Huffington Post, the question I'm most often asked -- besides "does the office really have nap pods?" -- is: "Does Arianna really practice what she preaches when it comes to all this redefining success stuff?" After all, Arianna's done a lot of preaching lately during a tour to help promote her bestselling book: "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder."

The answer to both questions is yes. And, yes, we also enjoy free yoga, breathing and meditation classes. Employees play ping-pong. They grab free yogurt from the fridge. And they work. Really hard.

No, we employees don't always manage to stay off email during the weekend and, no, we aren't always able to get away from our desks to have lunch. But there is a real sense around our offices that at least we're all trying to shift the focus from work, work, work to thriving -- a process of building a rewarding and healthy life, more full of meaning and purpose.

And that's something to be proud of.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Things That Automatically Reduce Readers' Stress