A few weeks ago, we accomplished an incredible feat with our annual APEX event. Our company-wide hackathon, a tradition beloved by Adage employees focused on in-person collaboration, was transformed into a completely virtual event. Although working remotely isn’t a novel concept at this point, virtual events can still be challenging for cross-collaboration and creative-thinking, which are staples of APEX. Since this is our biggest event of the year, we were determined to make this virtual hackathon easy for everyone to come together to develop projects and build camaraderie.
So, how did we make APEX happen in a virtual setting? In this piece, we’ll give you more insight into the structure of APEX’s virtual retreat, including what we did to maximize opportunities for employees to interact, have fun, and create something that benefits our work and our clients.
Continuing the Hackathon Format
This is our third year where APEX has followed the hackathon format. Adage employees have praised our hackathons, saying it’s engaging, informative, and a productive use of time away from regular work. In addition, employees continue to enjoy collaborating with people they don’t normally work with. Previous hackathons have produced many great innovations that are still in use today, like our Back End Developer Onboarding Project, a Front-End Component Library, and a new format for synthesizing Discovery Workshop feedback.
“It was an easy decision to stick with a hackathon,” said Victoria Sullivan, our Talent Operations Manager who plans the event. “With 2020 bringing so many changes, we really wanted to keep the hackathon tradition alive. While the goal of a hackathon is to build an MVP, it’s also about having fun, learning something new, and getting to collaborate with others.”
Employee Feedback Fuels Improvements
“We love to iterate and improve things, so after each APEX we survey employees for feedback, and use those suggestions to make the next event even better,” said Sullivan. We make slight changes to every APEX but this year we introduced big improvements.
In the past, employees would individually propose projects related to the technology we use or our company, giving people a wide range of topics to choose from. This year, we wanted to narrow our focus to three topics that could really impact the work we do for our clients and partners: Associations, Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE), or the Episerver Marketplace. Why did we select these topics? Well, a majority of our clients are in the association or arts & culture space, and Episerver is one of our most prominent partners.
Then, in an effort to increase employee contributions during the ideation phase of APEX, we launched a new activity. Previously, we asked employees to submit their own project ideas for APEX. This year we wanted to provide more opportunity for collaboration and more time to develop well-rounded ideas so we had employees brainstorm project ideas together a month before the hackathon. Everyone divided into small groups and, facilitated by our designers and senior leaders, created multiple ideas around one of the aforementioned topics.
Our designers frequently lead brainstorming sessions for our clients. Ruizhi, our Lead UX Designer, was thrilled with this addition to APEX and explained, “these brainstorming sessions gave everyone a chance to engage in a stress-free, low-stakes environment to think about and bounce around new, innovative ideas.” He added, “for those who don’t normally participate in brainstorm sessions, this gave those individuals an opportunity to see what it’s like to contribute and influence the initial creation of a project.”
Adding brainstorming sessions to APEX was a success because so many ideas came out of them. After our senior leaders narrowed down the ideas to their top 10, our employees then chose whatever project they wanted to work on.
We also did something different during the development phase. Although APEX is not a competition, we took a cue from some of the best competition TV shows and had “judges” (Roy Chomko, President of Adage, and Mat Agee, CTO of Adage) do 15-minute consultations with each team. Roy and Mat asked questions, offered feedback, and shared guidance for each project. In addition to helping teams build better projects, this gave each team face time with the owners of the company, which is something that has been more challenging since we’ve gone remote.
What Remained the Same
One thing everyone loves about APEX is the swag. Given our remote status, we didn’t have the option to drop off swag in the office. So, we made socially-distant drop-offs to everyone around the Chicagoland area thanks to the generosity of Roy and Heather Scholl, one of our Client Consultants.
As is tradition, we started the second day with an all-company kick-off in the morning with fun energizers and 90’s music trivia. It was a great way to get everyone ready for the day. Following the kick-off, we had an industry speaker present to us. This is something we’ve done in the past and this year we invited Reggie Henry from ASAE to share what’s important to a CIO at an Association.
What did our employees create?
At the conclusion of the 24-hour hackathon, each group presented their ideas to the entire company. Here’s a look at all the ideas:
- ACE Demo Site
- Block Type & Visitor Group Instance Report
- Browse Experience for EpiFind Data
- Chat Integration for Associations Virtual Events
- Epi Reusable Blog Starter Kit
- Image Compression & Focal Point Tool
- iPaaS for Associations
- Metadata Crawler
- Over-the-top (OTT) Conference Solution
- Watch & Listen with Paid Content
What’s great is some projects have already been put into use. For projects that haven’t been immediately implemented, our Leadership Team is continuing to look at launching them based on need and ROI.
Keeping Traditions Alive
With so much uncertainty in the world right now, we know how important it is to stick with a familiar routine. That’s why we worked so hard to keep this tradition alive because APEX has been an event that our employees look forward to each year. While we hope next year’s APEX will be in person, this virtual experience has reinforced that our team can roll with any challenge.
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