The workplace—and space—as we know it is changing. And as we move to a model of distributed teams, bridging the virtual gap to bring teams together is more important than ever. One strategy for uniting your company under a singular purpose is holding a hackathon.
A hackathon is an event where the whole company gathers and—setting aside the daily pattern of story work and bug fixes—focuses exclusively on special projects that super-charge a team and what they create. Hackathons provide an infusion of creative energy. The change in speed and perspective often leads to different paths with great outcomes that we would otherwise have missed.
At Coda, we assemble the entire company four times per year (once per quarter) for a hackathon. Not only have some of our best ideas come of this tradition, but hackathons by nature also encourage unexpected teams to form. These connections make all the difference as people go back to their home offices.
Three pillars of virtual hackathons
While our hackathons have been traditionally in-person, we've adapted our planning strategy and pre-requisites by defining three key pillars of hackathons that are compatible with virtual teams.
Establish common spaces.
Because a virtual hackathon takes place, well, virtually, common spaces should be established to recreate the everyone-in-the-office-at-the-same-time feel of an in-person hackathon. These spaces might look and feel differently depending on the work styles, schedules, and bandwidth of your team. Encourage each team to try a combination of the following:
Coda doc - Set up a master hackathon doc where everyone can pitch and vote on ideas. Once teams have formed, additional Coda docs can be spun up to accommodate individual teams and projects.
Slack channel - Whether communication is synchronous or asynchronous, you're going to need space to just talk out plans. Dedicated Slack channels route conversations about the hackathon to a place where others can participate or follow along without getting lost in other work-related chatter.
Zoom room - Need to brainstorm? Jump on a video call to get the specifics of your projects nailed down. Want to work "next" to someone? Keep the room open for anyone who might want to jump in when they have the time.
Figma file - Keep your mocks up-to-date and pretty, too.
Ad-hoc dev environment - You're probably going to want to play around with code. Best to do it somewhere other than Master.
Inspire and coordinate ideas.
Making the world a better place. Building new tools for a subset of users. Using the product in unexpected ways. Setting a specific theme for your hackathon helps spur ideas. And while everyone should use the theme as inspiration, don't be too strict on theme adherence—you never know what kind of ideas people will pitch. Once your theme is set, here are a few steps to collect and coordinate ideas:
. Remember that one purpose of the hackathon is to bring everyone together. Setting a schedule helps your team separate "work" time from other opportunities to bond. Carve out time for virtual mealtime, snacktime, and socialization.