15 steps to a successful hackday

Last Modified: January 2, 2024 | Posted by: toast

What is a hack day?

A fantastic way to unleash innovation, the hack day has a proud tradition in Silicon Valley. In fact, companies like Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, Google, and even NASA, have long used hack days to ignite collaborative brainstorms and inspire ideas that might otherwise have fallen by the wayside due to the pressures of the day job.

Hackday [hak-deɪ] noun

A one or two day event where developers, designers and other interested parties come together to build stuff.

But today, even non-techies are getting in on the act. In fact, “hackday” is now frequently used to describe any event where usual business activity is suspended, and employees put their heads together to come up with new ideas that lead to meaningful business results.

Is hackday just a new name for teambuilding?

Almost. Both involve removing employees from the usual workplace and routine, and both involve inspiring people to work as a highly effective team. And, just like team building activities, hack days can be incredibly fun. But, while some (but not all) team building days are about giving employees a quick boost or break, the modern hack day is about fostering creativity, ingenuity, and business results.

How to organise a successful hackday

More and more, our clients are asking us to help make sure their hack days are a success. So, if you want to organise a hack day, give us a call. We’ll work with you to make sure it’s not only a lot of fun,  but that it also meets your business objectives. Meanwhile here are some of our top tips:

1. Know what you want to achieve

As with any event, it pays to start with a little strategy. Establish what you want your hack day to accomplish and set KPIs to make sure it does what you need it to. This can be general business-level objectives, specific departmental/project improvements, or a particular problem that needs solving. But don’t be too restrictive. The whole idea of the hackday is to inspire ideas that you haven’t thought of before.

2. Let people know what to expect

This is particularly important if you work in a large business with diverse teams and locations. But even if all your employees work in the same building on the same floor, it pays to arm them with as much knowledge as you can upfront. Make sure your internal communications spell out what to expect, and what’s expected of your employees (you could even create a bespoke microsite with all the relevant details). This should fire imaginations before your hackday and maximise results on the day.

3. Choose the right venue

First and foremost, make sure your employees can get there. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But nothing puts people off events like a long journey down a farm track to get to a beautiful but impractical stately home in the middle of remote hills. And few things stifle creativity more than worrying about how to get home! Your event doesn’t have to be on a junction of the M6, but make sure it’s easy to reach with decent public transport links. Alternatively, you could consider putting on a coach to help people get to and from the hackday. Find out more about our venue search and location services.

4. Take precautions

As with any event, you must ensure you have the right insurance and security measures in place. As well as making sure belongings are kept safe, you should also consider wider confidentiality issues; especially since you will be generating ideas with the potential to deliver significant competitive advantages.

5. Make it accessible

Make sure there are no barriers to participation. Find out if there are any accessibility needs and put any necessary accommodations in place before the event starts.

6. Think about timings

Rather than shutting down operations for a day or so, many businesses choose to hold hack days at a weekend. However, this can lead to resentment. Few people enjoy giving up their free-time to accommodate additional work activity; no matter how fun you think it will be! If you have to run your hack day on the weekend, give plenty of warning and consider offering something in return. Disgruntled employees are not usually the most inventive.

7. Put the right tech in place

Make sure your venue can provide adequate WiFi and any additional requirements you will need (firewalling, security, power sockets, projectors, screens, etc.). Obviously, the more techie your hackday, the more complicated these requirements will be.

8. Keep attendees fed

Ask your employees for their dietary requirements in advance and make sure they don’t get hungry during the day. Provide drinks throughout the event and if your hackday runs into the evening be sure to provide a proper meal. Sandwiches and snacks won’t cut it after 6 pm.

9. Keep the presentations to a minimum

You absolutely can use presenters, but the best hack days make attendees a part of the event, rather than just passive spectators. Indeed, by relinquishing control and empowering your people to be experimental, the results can be game changing! Of course, you can use facilitators to guide hack day sessions. And, don’t be scared to make your employees feel a little bit uncomfortable. For example, you could ask them to complete a task, or turn a keynote session on its head and ask your guests to lead. The hack day shouldn’t be predictable.


Employees at team building events
Make sure your employees play an active role in team building activities


10. Stick to your time limits

Tell your presenters and facilitators how much time they have in advance and stick to these time limits as much as possible. You can use half-time cards or on screen countdowns to help you with this.

11. Give out incentives

Consider awarding prizes for standout ideas. Your management team could pick their winners from across the business, and you could also run an employee vote to pick their favourite. While the hack day is about generating actionable innovations, don’t overlook those creative but impracticable ideas. You don’t want to stifle imagination at future events.

12. Don’t lose sight of your objectives

You can, of course, include more social elements into your hackday planning, but remember what it is you want to achieve. If your aim is to inspire learning and ideas that transfer directly back into the real-world, work-based exercises are far more likely to help you do this than an afternoon karaoke session. Try and keep noisy and disruptive entertainment until the end of the day (and allow people to opt-out if they so choose). That said, make sure to include regular opportunities for employees to step away from sessions and tap into their inner genius!

13. Put contingency plans in place

Live events are ‘predictably unpredictable.’ Which in short, means that if it can go wrong, then at some point it probably will. Establish your pressure points and figure out what to do should the worst happen. Find out more about how to avoid event planning nightmares.

14. Be disruptive

The hackday should be disruptive. Employees should leave with a fresh perspective that changes the way they think forever. Consider adding some surprise elements to thrill throughout your event; be that guest speakers, immersive tech, or simply something unexpected. Find out more about creating disruptive events.

15. Don’t expect all the benefits of a hackday to materialise immediately

Not every idea generated on hackday will transform your business. But if that’s what you expect then you are missing the point. Hack days can deliver great ideas, but they also help foster an on-going entrepreneurial spirit, even in larger organisations. This way of working tends to deliver passion and innovation that lasts long after the day is over. What’s more, hack days also nurture collaboration, make employees feel invested in a company, and break down business silos; these are things that are always worth investing in.

At Apex, we understand the immense effort that goes into preparing for hack days, and we work with you to help you reach your goals and achieve a truly positive experience. If you’d like to find out more about how we can make your hackday events a success, contact us today to find out moreor give us a call today on + 44 (0)1625 429370 to discuss your requirements in more depth.