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Hackathons Break Up Work Monotony and Inspire Innovation

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Work environments can become stagnant and monotonous, quashing creativity and making unleashing the inner entrepreneur in employees difficult. The habitual regimen of 40+ hours a week, where work consists of building a product out of requirements, can be mentally draining and limiting.

Employees need time to flex their creative sides

At 352 Inc., we have looked for many ways to break the monotony of a typical workday. We're a development shop, so we found our favored solution in the development world: a hackathon. We always push employees to own their work, and the hackathon approach fosters entrepreneurship through internal innovation without compromising the end results.

Hackathons consist of:

  • A change in the everyday environment to maximize creativity. Hackathons suspend all work and projects—even shut down digital devices, such as cell phones.
  • Employees finding solutions to different challenges. Through hackathons, employees are empowered to create their own ideas and solutions, harnessing the freedom to take their product concepts in any direction they see fit.
  • Time constraints that keep the pressure on. Hackathons encourage employees to create and demo a full product in a short period of time (typically three days). Many employees work well in competitive, time-crunch environments.
  • An incentive or prize to work towards. Employees need to be motivated (whether with a bonus, grand prize, or future dividends) to move off client work in a productive way and to be driven to give their absolute best.
  • The opportunity for your employees to take the lead. The power of hackathons is in the teams of employees that come together and work tremendously hard towards a common goal. A hackathon is a great opportunity for employees to demonstrate leadership and teamwork.

We recently hosted our third annual "Race to 352" hackathon, which has become a revered company-building event to focus on projects that excite us.


Here is how and why a hackathon became an integral part of our annual schedule

Many companies attempt to let employees work on personal projects, but others fail to realize the most important step is commitment.

Though the power of the hackathon comes from employees, the opportunity comes from management. Suspending all company work for a hackathon ensures a successful event, as this time allows every employee to participate and contribute to the project development process.

Taking an extended time off from the normal work schedule can be daunting. This is the biggest step for management to overcome.

Everyone should participate in a hackathon

Hackathons engage the entire company workforce, building moral and chemistry through internal innovation. Limiting a hackathon to tech personnel is tempting, but all employees should actively participate in the event, whether they are marketers, UI designers, secretaries, etc.

Every company employee can submit ideas to management, who then whittles down the best ideas and assigns them to hackathon teams. The chosen idea holders then work in conjunction with development teams to create their product.

In bringing together two different types of employees, such as the introverted developers and the extroverted marketers, this collaboration develops new bonds and a deeper chemistry within the office.

The most tangible results of a successful hackathon are the innovative products produced. Freeing employees from client work gives them the opportunity to fully explore their most creative ideas. They can explore their passions and see those ideas developed on work time, which reinvigorates the entrepreneurial spirit within. This spirit mimics one found earlier in careers, when employees are hungry to prove their worth. That drive tends to decay with age and daily repetition, but the hackathon is a smart way to reignite that lost fire through friendly competition and creative freedom.

It's one thing to code a set idea versus developing your own. Hackathons present developers and marketers with a novel perspective on production and deployment. Employees become their own clients as they experience the perspective and decisions that clients have to make.

Not only are new products produced but a business mentality is also developed through this engaging event.

Motivating employees with rewards further drives product production. Backing the winning product or guaranteeing further funding for its production shows employees that their company trusts and believes in their work. Clients also see the value in hackathons, especially when they understand what they can get out of it. Employees are mentally rejuvenated and inspired, resulting in more productivity towards client work.

* * *

With the company shut down, hosting a hackathon may seem like a steep opportunity cost to justify. The event, however, pays dividends beyond the products produced.

With a wide scope of potential revenue opportunities, amazing new products, exciting public relations exposure, and a tangible increase in company moral, it is a worthy bet to make. Hackaway the workspace monotony today!


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Pete Bernardo is executive vice-president of Strategy at 352 Inc., a digital product development agency specializing in product strategy, user experience design, custom Web development, and digital marketing

LinkedIn: Pete Bernardo 

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