HR & Culture
 min read

Pulling off a Remote Hackathon

Pulling off a Remote Hackathon
August 10, 2022

In this article

As much as we wish it weren't the case, all organizations struggle from time to time with significant, cross-functional problems that seem to render specific solutions wholly ineffective. When the typical solutions aren't cutting it, it's time to get creative. 

What if we told you there was a way to bring groups of diverse minds together to attack these seemingly insurmountable problems from multiple points of view while simultaneously bolstering your company's culture? 

Well, there is!

Earlier this year, we (at SwagUp) executed our first (and definitely not the last) hackathon 100% virtually!

You might be wondering, "hackathon? What's that?!" A hackathon is a team-building event that brings people from across the organization together to collaborate. The best part? It's a competition, and the winners are rewarded for their contributions to the organization.

Hackathons offer a great ROI to the organization and its employees. It's a brief moment where participants have the opportunity to make decisions for the business, regardless of their titles and responsibilities. 

A hackathon's focus is finding solutions to ailing problems within the company, and it's a focus that will save the company time and money in the long run. 

Ultimately, it's a break of the daily grind of work, and a chance to work with people you'd otherwise not interact much with outside of your role. 

Typically, companies perform hackathons in person to maximize productivity and collaboration. But, we're here to tell you that that does NOT mean that you can't have a great hackathon virtually. We are not hackathon experts, but we we do want to share a few things that helped us plan ours, and hopefully, it helps you!

Choose a date at least a month in advance.

This might seem obvious, but you'll need time to build out your hackathon and all the things that go into it (swag, slide decks, teams, promo events/info sessions, etc.) You also want to absolve your hackers of their typical workload so they can entirely focus on hacking and disconnect from the daily grind - you'll need some time to secure reliable coverage.

Identify your problem (if that's the direction you go in) and create a Problem Statement.

Your Problem Statement should be a few clear and concise sentences that describe the current state and point out the flaws, so hackers have a good idea of what's broken. If your hackathon is going to be open-ended, you may want to provide some suggestions of things that need fine-tuning in your org, or you can leave it fully open-ended and say nothing at all!

Promote your event!

Announce it in an All-Hands, follow up with frequent all-company comms, host information sessions, flaunt your incredible prizes, and offer yourself and your planning team as a resource for any questions.

PRO TIP 1: You'll want to promote your hackathon before and after it's over. It would help if you promoted it internally beforehand to build excitement but promoting it after the fact can increase turnout for the next event AND help your company stand out to its clients as exceptionally innovative and forward thinking.

PRO TIP 2: Create unique logos and graphics for your hackathon and use them in the pre and post-event promo and during the event on slide decks, Slack statuses, hackathon email OOO messages, etc. 

PRO TIP 3: Determine interest and build diverse, well-represented teams. In-person hackathons have the benefit of groups forming organically. But in a remote hackathon, you must ensure that teams are pre-planned so (a) nobody is accidentally excluded and (b) awkwardness is avoided. To build anticipation and prevent premature hacking, announce your teams at the very beginning of the first day of your hackathon.

Create clear, objective judging criteria and share it with your hackers.

It's hard to produce a deliverable without some idea of what the deliverable should be. So, you'll need to create some high-level parameters that the final hackathon product should fit within. Examples could include ease of implementation (because you want actually to use the solution your winning team comes up with), adherence to company values while hacking (remember, this is also a cultural event), or customer experience (will your customers actually like this and want to use it?)

Culture, culture, culture!!!

A hackathon is so much more than just a problem-solving event - it's a way to have a long lasting, profound, uplifting impact on your company's culture. Newsflash: being remote is not a good reason to have no culture at your hackathon!

PRO TIP 4: Create fun, limited-edition swag for people to rep during your hackathon (hit us up for help with that!), design engaging and exciting opportunities to earn extra points by being silly and having fun (Chipotle selfies, hackathon TikToks/memes, games such as Executive Team trivia and virtual rock paper scissors were all the rage at our event), give your hackers some food (we partnered with Uber Eats for this), and provide some structure to your hackers' days so they know what to expect.

Build out a Guide to Hacking.

This should be a document that centralizes all of the information participants need about their upcoming hackathon experience - it should contain your Problem Statement, judging criteria, instructions on how to submit the final product/deadline for doing so, schedule, and other housekeeping items. Make sure also to include your hackathon branding here!

Have fun and be creative!

A hackathon is all about bringing teams together to solve problems. Make sure to let all of your creative juices run freely and keep it low stress :)

Remember, these are just some tips and tricks that we learned during our first hackathon. Hackathons are all about innovation, new ideas, and creativity so feel free to add some spice to your hackathon however you wish. Let us know how it goes! And of course, no hackathon is complete without some dope limited-edition swag so if you're looking to plan a hackathon, you know who to call! 🚀

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