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How to Run a Virtual Hackathon - Coda

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Virtual Hackathon Planning Guide

Your team may be distributed, but that doesn't mean you can't bring everyone together.
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 hackathon teams to form. These connections make all the difference as people go back to their home offices.

Three pillars of virtual hackathons

While our traditional hackathons have been in-person events, we've adapted our strategy and pre-requisites to function in pandemic conditions by defining three key pillars of online 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 the hackathon participants. 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 submissions. Once teams have formed, additional Coda docs can be spun up to accommodate individual teams, projects, and workflows.
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 or do some problem-solving? 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 any team members that 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 prototypes, tools, or functionalities 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:
Track . You've shared the hackathon plans and theme with the team. Now start the ideation phase and let everyone add hackathon ideas to this table during the weeks leading up to the hackathon.
Set a . 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 work, mentoring, virtual mealtime, snack time, and socialization.
Call for the . Everyone will need to sell their own idea. But before they do, have them detail their idea in this table.
Form . The team has heard the pitches, and now it's time for team formation. Have everyone designate their project preference in this table to form teams.
Time for . The project work is complete(ish), and now it's time to show off what has been accomplished. Coordinate the presentations with this table.
. Don't forget the most important part of any successful hackathon. Make sure you link to important docs and mocks, and record your thoughts.

Don't forget to have fun.

Sure, hackathons are hard, lightning-speed teamwork for all involved, but fun is at the very root of the online event. When you're hosting an in-person hackathon, spring for great snacks and coffee. If you're organizing a virtual hackathon, you might need to be a bit more creative, but there are still plenty of opportunities to have fun.
Virtual happy hours - When the day is done, transform those Zoom rooms into something a bit lighter. Set a theme or let the conversation flow organically. BYOB, of course.
Virtual movie night - Gather the team around yet another Zoom room for a communal movie showing. Can't decide on which movie to show? Set up a voting table to ask and vote on suggestions.
Virtual spirit week - Wear a hat! Dress up your plant! Add an extra layer of camaraderie with fun challenges.
Icebreakers - What dinner could you eat every day? What is your favorite memory? Get to know your team even better with crowdsources questions.

Your turn: plan your own virtual hackathon with this Coda doc.

This doc is meant to be your virtual hackathon toolkit. If you're up for the challenge, go ahead and copy the doc on your desktop to get started.
In the rest of this doc, you'll find example tables to help you with:

Get started

Virtual hackathon FAQs

What is a virtual hackathon?

Virtual hackathons are online events where people gather to work on projects together. Usually, the projects share a goal or a theme, and their purpose can be different — some are done just for fun, some are done to help a cause, others are for talent sourcing, and more.

How do you run a virtual hackathon?

You need to do a few things to host a virtual hackathon. First, you should come up with a theme or a goal for the hackathon. Next, you should pick out the participants, schedule, judges, and prizes. Then, you should promote the event and open up the registrations to your organization or community. When all this is done, you are ready to run the event!Finally, you should do a recap of the hackathon.

What are the benefits of a virtual hackathon?

There are a lot of benefits to hosting an online hackathon. For example, it's much more convenient and more budget-friendly to organize an event that happens virtually. Also, it's much easier to be diverse and have participants from all over the world when they don't have to be in the same location. It's easier to attract top talent when they compete virtually.

A few of the 25,000+ teams that 🏃‍♀️ on Coda.

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