A little over a year ago, over 3000 people gathered at one center for a conference to participate in the Digital Breakthrough hackathon in Kazan, Russia, setting a record in the world for the largest number of hackathon participants in the past.

Today, hackathons need to look a lot different. Unlike before it is now a new agenda to bring up the best assets from or to the company in a very fun manner. And so, it is very important to know the best practices for an online hackathon.

It is important to define your goals clearly

Focus on your online hackathon goal. This way, it is easier to plan and then analyse later.

Companies often use hackathons to solve a particular issue for the user or to take off some technical debts or old-fashioned boards.

Other developers would like to improve their knowledge of a specific application or API by building something inside it. Some want to foster collaboration with other teams or pods. Also, it could be for fun.

Whatever your objective, the leaders and organizers should be able to commit to it quickly and clearly. If it’s a statement of a problem, be sure to share it during virtual meetings as well as in writing. If you’re looking for a boost in employee satisfaction, establish the criteria for what an engaged remote workforce will look like.

A common goal can aid in defining timeframes. One or two-day duration must be given while hackathon planning.

Over-communicate and do it verbally

There’s no one around to announce the event or coordinate participants. It’s common for online hackathons to become chaotic. It’s possible to prevent this from happening by preparing an hour-by-hour calendar (don’t forget breaks!) and establishing contest guidelines prior to the time.

The guidelines you provide should outline the objectives of the event and the procedure for team-building and pitching, rules regarding hacking after-hours, expectations about the normal work schedule, and the evaluation criteria for the final project.

Making the schedule requires some nitty-gritty if your employees are globally spread out. Some organizations prefer keeping everyone to follow the same schedule and, as a result, some employees can begin working early in the morning. In contrast,

Others get started later in the evening.

It’s all they have to do is reach an agreement regarding timing. Also, if they have a teammate in another time zone, they have to consider that when forming the team. Make sure that everyone is happy with the timing.

One of the most common virtual hackathons issues is the lack of communication since everything is in text format. To help with this, a full proof hackathon planning is a must. However, if the problem is fully presented to developers by technical leads or team heads, it can save much time and ensure the submissions’ accuracy.

Incorporate other teams

Hackathons might be a tradition for developers, but rapid innovation isn’t only the realm of programmers.

Incorporating other teams, including customers and marketing, into your virtual event will enhance the experience and make it more efficient.

If teams participating in hackathons include people from different departments, who do not have the advantage of using shorthand, tools for virtual communication become more essential.

When you involve this while the hackathon is planning the conditions that allow individuals from various teams with diverse capabilities, the opportunities of innovation are limitless, and physical distances become irrelevant.

Instruct participants prior to the time

When the clock for the online hackathon starts, it’s not good to take time to bring participants acquainted with tools, frameworks, or codebases — particularly when the job could’ve been completed prior to the deadline.

This is especially effective in situations where you’ve shared a problematic statement with the author, who can discuss the issue directly. Include a meeting with a person who is familiar with the relevant stack.

Also, you should take some time for the hackathon planning for the big event to ensure all participants are set up with the right permissions and settings.

Don’t over-structure

The barriers to communication that come from a remote event can encourage you in your hackathon planning. However, resist the temptation -the participants drive hackathons.

One method to prevent over-engineering is to establish an event committee that will oversee the event. A multi-disciplinary committee with the C-suite’s buy-in is a fantastic option to ensure that the event is beneficial to employees as well as the business.

While it’s beneficial to set clear deadlines and expectations, use broad strokes when describing how teams should use their time. Allow plenty of time to hack, and don’t ask participants to be tuned in to online information sessions or updates during the time that the contest is in progress.

Another area that is easy to become rigid is the process of ideation. Once you’ve communicated your primary idea or problem, take a step back and let the participants react to it however they like. If your organizers are too involved in the selection of projects and group formation, you could end up losing your goal.

Some planners enter and select ideas; however, there are advantages of letting employees organize themselves around ideas that appeal to them. Some ideas that are too complex or even absurd — might become viable after teams have had the opportunity to explore these ideas.

Prioritize the fun

Online Hackathons are renowned as fun events. Don’t ruin it by excluding remote participants or treating it as an after-hours programming session for free. Make sure to freeze all deliverables and communications platforms running and let the participants free.

A way to inject excitement into a virtual hackathon is to ensure that your judging system is geared towards learning and collaboration and not just a stunning end product.

Final Words

Make sure you have a plan for prizes for teams that are remote. Amazon gift cards are a good choice. However, going that extra mile to create a personalized prize leaves an even greater impression. One thing that was successful was having everybody’s preferred type of food item planned prior to the time and scheduling the delivery date to the home of each participant. This is a little bit of work, but it was a huge help to make everyone feel loved and allowed everyone to concentrate on the work to be completed.

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