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June 03, 2020

[Free Guide] How to run the perfect virtual Hack Day

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Helena Montoro Perez and Selena Cass 5 minute read

50 participants, 5 countries, 12 teams, and not 1 office in sight!

Making time for innovation is a challenge in the best of circumstances. But, with remote working, travel bans, and social distancing becoming part of our new reality, the ability to cultivate innovation across your organisation has become mission-critical.

As complex problem-solvers, innovation is a core part of our everyday work at Adaptavist. We also recognise that it’s important to carve out specific time for it and make the effort something people can get excited about.

Our first-ever global Hack Day 2020

So, last week we decided to host our first global Hack Day of 2020 - a chance for people to step back from their everyday work and focus on creative problem-solving with their colleagues across the globe.

While Hack Days are nothing new to us, running a completely virtual one is. Despite the many challenges going on around us, we had over 100 participants spanning the UK, US, and Europe, from marketing to software engineers, all joining forces to deliver innovative apps and solutions. 

Here are some of the key highlights and insights from our first-ever virtual Hack Day event, experienced first-hand by participants:

Hack Day events are a great boost for employee morale, shares Adaptavist’s Head of Events, Dee McMahon. “...they help team members to bond with their colleagues across the world.” Dee believes that Hack Days spark engagement between people that may not usually happen, encouraging people to work together to collaborate and create amazing things in a short amount of time.

Even though Product Marketing Manager for Slack, Seb Sidbury, missed being surrounded by people that inspire that ‘hacking’ vibe, he felt “there was still a sense of togetherness and commitment, even though we were not in the same room. In fact, in many ways productivity was higher, as we could jump on a Zoom call every now and then to track progress, and then get back to work.”

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Seb also believes that with virtual Hack Days “you have fewer distractions to deal with, as you don’t go out for lunch or coffee breaks with your teammates. I set my Slack on ‘do not disturb’ mode to avoid any unnecessary notifications.” But Seb admits that for team members that have busy schedules at home or domestic responsibilities, it might have had the opposite effect.”

Seb’s Hack team achieved second place in our virtual Hack event with their Hack project Everyday Toolkit, which focuses on how to bring essential ‘everyday’ tools into Slack. As Seb is not a coder by trade, he left that aspect to other team members but was excited to work on refining and developing the idea and strategy and explore its potential value.

For Seb, Hack Day goes far beyond developing and working on code, “...my team invested time and effort into developing a business case and marketing assets for our everyday app. This reflects the wonders and potential of having a cross-functional team.  

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A nifty app to help you better manage your meetings calendar, developed by Andra Dinu, the Project Marketing Manager for ScriptRunner for Confluence and BitBucket, and her team, was the undisputed Virtual Hack Day winner. Andra’s team identified a problem that affects everyone at almost any level within an organisation; endless, back-to-back meetings. What started as a joke about how busy everyone is, the idea suddenly clicked. 

Leveraging the right tools for the job is key in Andra’s opinion. Her team decided to take a step back and reflect on how they could make use of existing technology and tools to develop something that will help people manage their time more efficiently.

There’s no magic trick for success when it comes to Virtual Hack Days, according to Andra. Instead, it’s about being efficient and constantly engaging with your team. To start with, her team had an initial brainstorming session to assign tasks and discuss what was realistic to achieve in just 24 hours. The team then went away, reported back on a collective zoom call every few hours to track progress. 

Andra believes her team’s success lies in the fact that they “...developed a strong concept that resonates with people’s struggles and problems. She also acknowledges that it is all about team effort, and having a diverse mix of people and expertise was a real game-changer for them. 

When it comes to a Virtual Hack Day, Andra strongly recommends getting involved, adding “...it’s a great way of bringing innovation to the company. You get to work with people you wouldn’t normally work with and this sparks new ideas. Getting out of your comfort zone helps you become more creative.”

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Support engineer Kristian Walker was keen to use the virtual Hack Day as a chance to test out his development skills. Joining forces with fellow Support team member Matthew Clark, they focused on a customer challenge involving experimenting with the forge framework for Cloud - something they had both wanted to do for a while.

Echoing Seb’s sentiment, Kristian believes that with the event being virtual, it enabled his team to be more productive, “...when you’re in the office for a Hack Day it can be noisy and hard to concentrate. Being able to talk together without lots of distractions in the background made us work more efficiently and be able to think clearly.” 

However, pitching in person is always better for Hack events, shares Kristian. He believes it would have made it easier to gauge what people were thinking and to answer their questions in person. But, other than that he would love the next Hack Day to be virtual as well.

Kristian feels that the virtual Hack Day has inspired him to explore his interest and test out his development skills more in the future, working on solving a customer problem and learning a new skill set was so rewarding.

All and all a resounding success for our first-ever virtual Hack Day - we're already gearing up for the next one!

Here's our top 3 tips for virtual Hack Day success:

  1. Give your team plenty of notice to schedule the event around their work and personal life
  2. Hold a kick-off briefing session to address all participant questions and concerns in advance
  3. Don’t forget the fun stuff - reward teams and appreciate their hard work. 

Download our guide to create your own virtual Hack Day