Organising a remote hackathon
Our goal: to run a design-led hackathon. Over Zoom.
As the Product Design team at Workhuman, we are used to applying design thinking to solve problems. We have a track record of successful face-to-face events including World Usability Day and a Human UX Hackathon. But we faced a new challenge in translating these experiences to remote working. With staff in the US, Ireland and other locations, how could we deliver an engaging collaborative event?
Here’s how we reconfigured our hackathon to adapt to our new normal!
From all-day to short bursts
Hackathons often take place in day-long sessions, sometimes lasting a full weekend or all night, fuelled by face-to-face camaraderie and pizza. During the pandemic, this did not feel appropriate! Even if the atmosphere could be replicated in individual homes, asking people to spend time in full-day online meetings risks burnout. We were mindful of adding stress after a tough 18 months, when the desired feeling was fun and collaboration.
So we took inspiration from Google design sprint (a five-day process). We had four x 2 hour workshop sessions, ending with a 1-hour showcase of presentations. Meetings were set at a time within US and European working hours and spaced out to allow time in between. We wanted to sustain interest and motivation in the event, whilst continuing business as usual.
No code, no problem
Hackathons are associated with Engineering and often have working code output. We wanted to include people from any department in the company so it was important that success didn’t depend on coding ability. Teams were tasked with agreeing a problem to solve, idea generation, creating a prototype and presenting both idea and prototype. Many attendees joined the company in the last year so we wanted to create an inclusive space for getting to know each other.
Teams had 5–7 participants led by 3 facilitators from the Product Design team. They were guided through Miro workshops filled with activities, including an ice-breaker each day. We had tried and tested these, iterating the format. We also used short Loom videos to give an overview of each day. Branded Zoom backgrounds for each team, swag through the post and communications via Slack created a sense of occasion.
Research at the ready
On Day 3 teams created the prototype and a survey or usability test to collect feedback. This was a crunch time, when the designers facilitating the event worked hard to bring the idea to life. Results from the research were used to shape and refine the prototype, giving the teams further momentum to keep iterating.
We ended the event with a company-wide call where each team presented their idea and prototype. Immediately after, people could vote for their favourite idea. Our executive committee also discussed the ideas and we announced winning teams the same day via Slack.
So how did it go? Teams created several fantastic ideas and prototypes related to our product. Facilitators did a brilliant job across the board, reinforcing the importance of having a research-led design process. And our survey says over 90% of participants enjoyed being part of the Hackathon!
But we learned a few lessons along the way…
The importance of timing
It was tricky to find the right time to run the Hackathon, considering other events and priorities. Even with careful planning, we ended up running into the back to school week for the US. It’s never too early to book dates and figure out potential clashes that might prevent people attending.
A marathon or a sprint?
Even with our event spread over five days, many found it difficult to juggle workload and meetings. Depending on your commitments, it might be easier to attend a one or two-day event. We’re open to ways to make the timing even more flexible. Since everything ran online, teams could even schedule their own timings next time.
Having put the effort into creating fantastic ideas, teams wanted more time to answer questions and receive feedback during the showcase. We also had a Eurovision-inspired voting process, which was a little chaotic to organise! Planning how you will collect and deliver feedback to attendees is a key point to remember in delivering a satisfying Hackathon experience.
Have you run a remote hackathon lately? Tell us how it went.
That’s a wrap on Hackathon 2021!