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5 Tips for a Successful Remote Hack Week
Pak Wai Choong
Software Engineering Director
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In recent years, hack week/hackathon/hack day has been a driving force of innovation for large companies. These events are not only fun, productive and educational, they provide numerous additional benefits to the organization.

  1. Provides a change of pace from the usual backlog to refresh creative thinking
  2. Helps build culture and community around a shared interest
  3. Serves as a recruitment tool to attract passionate engineers

1. Take a New, Inclusive Approach

Traditionally at ServiceRocket, hack week has been available to engineers only. For one week, our engineers and product teams set aside their backlogs for this event. To spice things up a little, we implemented a new approach. We started by splitting the event into two stages.

  1. Idea stage
  2. Hack week

The intent of this new approach is to open hack week to employees outside of engineering. The catch at most organizations is that not everyone has a technical background. Thus, the idea stage works well here. It reduces the barrier to entry for people to get involved and, subsequently, they learn more about the engineering process.

Setting a theme for hack week is a great way to spark creativity and idea generation.  As you encourage ideas that align with the theme, be mindful that you don’t break the flow of creativity as the teams try to innovate.

2. Increase Visibility to the Whole Company

Once more people across the company are involved in hack week, it's important to ensure the process and work is visible to the entire company.

ServiceRocket’s hybrid workforce uses the Workplace from Meta communication platform for communication and collaboration across the company. By creating a hack week Group and Chat, communication among hack week participants is super easy and visible to the whole company. The platform also ensures that it is easy for everyone, even fully-remote employees, to participate.

3. Maintain Momentum and Encourage Creativity

Sharing information in a workstream platform like Workplace generates interest and excitement about the work.  To build and maintain that momentum, we recommend creating a dashboard so everyone  can see results in real time. 

Involvement from key stakeholders is vital to the success of any hack week. In addition to providing unwavering support, ServiceRocket leadership uses Workplace to applaud and comment on the innovative ideas generated during hack week.

4. Judge Judiciously

Clearly, this is the trickiest part of the event. Since hack week is a recurring event, it’s important to recognize on a high level all the creativity and innovation it produces. This helps ensure strong, and enthusiastic, participation in the future.   

A panel of judges that evaluate the ideas using the same criteria is your best bet.  You can also include a mix of objective and subjective criteria.  Some ideas include novelty/coolness, software best practices for infrastructure, market/profit potential, demo, presentation and teamwork.

5. SurPrize the Winner 

In the end, winning isn’t everything. It is the process and the fun of building things that make us engineers happy. Still, every competition needs prizes, right?

Bragging rights are great, but the right prize is the icing on the cake. In the past, we used gift cards because of their ease and convenience. To better reward the effort and encourage more future participation, we now offer more memorable prizes. In our latest post hack week feedback, participants shared that they really appreciated the new prizes.  

Some ideas for your hack week: drones, Audible subscription, inventor’s kit, limited edition swag, retro video games or musical instruments, like a guitar.  These types of items offer a reminder of the accomplishment long after the window for bragging rights has closed.

Pave the Way for Innovation

These 5 tips will help you organize and run a successful hack week. Our most recent hack week generated more ideas from more cross-department, cross-location teams than ever before. As an organizer, nothing beats the joy of seeing everyone come together and watching the ideas flow.

Always remember that the idea of hack week is to break things. Break the mold. Break the rules. Break habits. Break free of constraints. Innovate.

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