The modern workplace is constantly shifting and developing. Businesses everywhere are constantly looking for an edge on their competitors, and some of the most significant changes involve redesigning the traditional approaches of HR. But, simply assuming what employees need or want is like throwing darts blindfolded. Even if you manage to hit the board, you might still be way off.  Enter the ‘HR Hackathon’ for a bit of innovative planning and business transformation to shape employee experience.

What is an HR hackathon, anyway?

Contrary to what the name suggests, hackathons don’t have anything to do with computer hacking (well most). So, rest easy, your ‘interesting’ browser history is safe for another day. Simply put, a hackathon is a collaborative programming event for the development of new virtual tools and applications. Born out of Silicon Valley, hackathons were responsible for some of the most innovative breakthroughs of the last 20 years.

So, an HR hackathon for employee experience should result in something that helps everyone to engage more effectively. The term “hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hacking” and “marathon.” So, as the term suggests, hackathons are a single, intense burst of collaboration. Computer programmers make up the backbone of a good hackathon. But graphic designers, interface developers, web domain experts, and regular employees with first-hand insights all have important roles to play.

Why HR should be looking at a hackathon for your business

Although hackathons are a fairly new practice, that hasn’t stopped some of the most well-known companies from investing in them. Internal hackathons have been a Facebook tradition for a few years now, and have previously resulted in things like Facebook messenger and the “Like” button. Last year, they began hosting online hackathon competitions to engage with the wider developer community. The most recent of these had three tech tracks (award categories): Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Messaging.

But Facebook aren’t the only ones leveraging hackathons to develop and improve new tools and services. LinkedIn, Jet2, Cisco and many others have used hackathons to find tech-based solutions to a variety of problems.

At Zensai, engagement is usually our magic word of choice. But today, we’re more interested in the applications of a HR hackathon for employee experience. This experience encapsulates everything from onboarding and shift patterns, to the tools they use and the perks they’re offered. Hackathons connect HR to the people having these experiences, as well as experts who can help them.

Another reason it’s worth having a HR hackathon for employee experience in your businesses is that getting employees involved can help them get invested in these new tools. Remember, one of the biggest issues that managers and HR leaders face when trying to introduce new tech is getting employees onboard and interested in using it.

Getting employees of all levels and specialties involved in idea generation helps you gain a better understanding of what people actually need. And, because it stems from employee-led HR change, staff members will feel a sense of ownership and will be much more likely to buy into the idea of the finished product.

Collaborating across departments to tackle HR problems

Having HR hackathons for employee experience provides HR personnel with new ways to approach issues in the workplace. For example, perhaps the only way to collect employee feedback in your business is to set up an expensive survey that functions only as a snapshot in time. You might use a hackathon to develop a more effective virtual platform for regular employee feedback. Or perhaps you’re concerned about the security of remote workers, in which case, you could use a hackathon to develop an in-house encrypted messaging tool.

The point we’re trying to make is that a well-orchestrated hackathon has the potential to furnish your HR leaders with bespoke solutions to workplace problems, general or specific. As for how to set up an effective HR hackathon for employee experience, we’ve got some tips.

How to run a HR hackathon to improve employee experience

Pitch the hackathon and build excitement

The first step is to get everyone excited. Hype up the fact that you’ve got this project greenlit. Highlight well-known companies who use hackathons, and the kinds of tools they’ve produced. And merit might be its own reward, but you could even set up prizes for the winning ideas.

Establish the aim(s) of your HR hackathon (it’s all about employee experience)

It’s totally fine if you don’t have a specific purpose in mind for your hackathon. Part of the initial stage can be finding out exactly what people in your organisation feel they need. But if you’re looking for anything specific, then set that expectation from the beginning. If you’re trying to develop a recognition platform, then make it clear that’s what you want people to think about.

Give people the time and means to generate ideas

Speed is the essence of a good HR hackathon. You don’t want people to show up and then spend half their time umming and ahhing over what to work on. You should give participants a good week or two to spitball ideas, and offer virtual spaces for idea generation, like Trello or Slack, for good measure.

Bring everyone together

You need to make sure that the workspace for your hackathon is fit for purpose. Granted, this is much easier if you’re doing it remotely. But in normal circumstances, you’ll need to make sure everyone has access to computers, a solid internet connection, and anything else they’ll need. A lot of hackathons don’t involve taking time to rest, but if you’re planning to do it over a long weekend or something, you’ll probably need to come up with sleeping arrangements. And it should go without saying, but ordering takeout is inevitable.

Have people collaborate in teams

Two heads may be better than one, but a dozen is a bit much. Like the old saying goes, “˜too many cooks spoil the broth.’ Getting everyone into separate teams ensures that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You can have people sign up as teams prior to the event, or to make sure anyone who’s interested can take part, you could put people together yourself at the beginning.

Test and critique each other’s work to make sure the HR hackathon has met the brief to improve employee experience

Finally, it’s worth bringing everyone back together at the end. It allows you to see what the most popular tools are among your workforce, and means that everyone has access to a wide array of critical feedback. Giving people a chance to see what other teams have been working on is also a great way of providing employee recognition, and can give the participants some inspiration for the next time you run a HR hackathon for employee experience.