The coasters I organized for every attendee

How I organized a remote Hackday

Stefan M.
5 min readOct 21, 2020

On the 29. September at 9:00 AM we started our first remote Hackday.
Christian, my stream lead, and I build a prototype for something we call Issue of the month. I can’t wait until we finalized everything and share it with the world. But… that is another story. Here I just want to share why and how I organized this year’s Hackday. Sharing the challenges I had and my thought during the process.

Before I dig into details I want to say that I never organized a meeting of this size. Well, to be honest, I even never organized anything similar like this.

Anyways. It all started as my company introduced an initiative called Happiness Engineering. What this is doesn’t matter for the context. But there the question came up:

What’s about this year’s Hackday?

As I’m relatively new to the company I asked what this is. To summarize it for you, it is basically a one-day event where we can develop “something”. The only rule is that the outcome should have something to do with our company. So it isn’t even required to have an impact on our on-demand platform.

Our lead asked if someone wants to take it over (in the past he organized it). I raised immediately my hand of course… not. To be honest I was slightly worried about it. I waited a few days to see if someone would volunteer for this “job”. But since no one else did it I decided to take the opportunity as a challenge and raised my hand (this time for real!).

Nice. I have the responsibility for it. What’s next? I asked myself. I started by investigating how that day was organized in the past. It felt not that much organized from my point of view. Because it was just a “set a date, invite people, order pizza, book a room and let people develop stuff”.

But this year is different, right? Since March we are working remotely. The points “order pizza” and “book a room” are not valid for this year anymore. So I had to think about these two things:

  • How do I organize something to eat?
  • How do I organize this when we are all sitting at home?

Food / Swag

How to replace the pizza for everyone while sitting at home? My first idea was to buy pizza vouchers for everyone. But I threw this idea immediately away because I don’t know where all my colleagues live and what pizza company is nearby for them.

I liked the idea of buying voucher and tried to organize a few from McDonald’s. But to my surprise, there aren’t any vouchers to buy. At least not in Germany.

I started to realize that it does not make sense to do something like this. So I started to search for something similar to a “normal” lunch meal.

Maybe sending cupcakes to everyone and have a short break in the afternoon? Doesn’t work because I couldn’t found a company that sends just one cupcake to a specific address.

After a little bit of research on how other companies does this, I found out that “no one” eats together. Instead, they organize some swag.

I found this idea pretty nice but had to talk with my lead about this because this would be more expensive than “just food”. Anyways. He agreed (with a budget of course) and I decided for a cup and a few coasters for every attendee.

Isn’t this cup nice?!

I ordered the swag, it arrived in the office and was placed below my desk there. Nice. But how would I distribute them to everyone?
Well, we decided place them in the office. Because everyone goes from time to time for a day in the office anyways. So I placed it together with a post-it with the name on each into a wall shelf in the office.

It was not allowed to grab one before the Hackday end!

You still ask yourself if I gave up the idea to eat together?
Read on and I will tell you 😉.

Remote meetings

It is not allowed to sit in one room with this number of people because of the Coronavirus. Fact. That was (and still is) a company rule. So I had to host the Hackday remotely. For this I set up three meetings on that day:

  • Welcome
  • Lunch
  • Presentation

At the Welcome meeting, I gave everyone a quick introduction to the day (and the presents of course!). Then everyone could share their idea or project they are want to work on. Maybe also asking for contributors. This was relatively open because, as I said above, you could do basically “anything”. You were also free to work alone or in a team.

After these, people starting to team up and everyone started to hack.

The Lunch meeting was optional for everyone.
I had the idea that we can at least have a break together and eat while doing it. And…it worked. I guess half of the attendees joined the meeting with some food. While we ate we talked about the status of our today’s project. Afterward, we went to go back to hacking.

While the “first part” of the Hackday was “closed” for attendees of the Hackday only, the Presentation meeting was designed that all employees could join. In this meeting, all attendees hold a small presentation about what they build, how the process is (just the beginning, a working product but a lot to clean up, finished, …), and what the future of the project will be.

All in all I had a lot of fun by organizing the Hackday. But the best part, I learned a lot! Not only about the organization, but also about people and processes.