Planning a Hackathon Remotely — 2023 Edition

Hack the North
6 min readJan 31, 2023
Illustration: Rachel Xu

Original story written by: Anna Liang. Updated in 2023 by Carter Watkinson.

Note: This story was originally published on June 25, 2020, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It contains a ton of great info for future Hack the North Organizers, but some of it has since become slightly outdated. So, for the 2023 hiring season, our marketing team updated the post so it paints an accurate picture of what being a Hack the North Organizer is like today! Original post available here.

It’s 8:57 pm on Thursday and I sit at my desk with my laptop open in front of me. I open Google Meet and join the scheduled call. One-by-one, friendly faces pop up on my screen. By 9:00 pm, 40+ people tune into our weekly All-Hands meeting call where we provide team updates and important team-wide announcements (and memes) about Hack the North.

Thanks to most of our organizers being in co-op programs, operating as a remote team is nothing new. In any given term, around half of our organizers can be found working anywhere in the world besides Waterloo, Canada. Our 2022 team ended up contributing from places like France, Sweden, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, and more! Despite the juggle of coordinating between classes, co-op work, and time-zones, our team has always been able to persevere and thrive.

We’re fortunate to have a set of tools for organization and planning, allowing us to collaborate from anywhere in the world. These resources have made the process of planning Hack the North accessible for everyone on the team. When it comes to planning a hackathon remotely, our team focuses on three key aspects:

  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Team bonding

Staying Organized 📋

Project plans, meetings notes, budgets, floor plans, product documentation, and marketing copy — the list goes on. There is so much that needs to be documented, and it’s important to keep it all organized. Maintaining organization prevents losing track of documents, and allows other team members to easily find essential resources and information. With so many people working on various projects, the real-time collaboration abilities of Google Drive and its suite of tools have made it a mainstay. Github’s version control capabilities also make it ideal for code storage and storing project documents.

Work must be tracked online and deadlines must be met to ensure smooth execution. Tracking our progress and sticking to goals is crucial. One of the tools we use to do this is Notion, a project management software that allows us to create visual roadmaps, take meeting minutes, and track tasks from start to finish. Google Calendar is another tool that’s essential for us to keep organized with our projects and time.

Communication 💬

Another important aspect of planning a hackathon remotely is communication. Without communication, there is no collaboration. Without collaboration, there is no team. Luckily, technology makes interacting with team members simple. Our team meets regularly for collaboration, discussions, updates, and announcements. It’s more efficient to have discussions over video conference than sending messages back and forth. At Hack the North, we use Google Meet since it’s a convenient way to schedule groups of organizers to meet virtually— by automatically creating a virtual meeting room, Meet makes setting up meetings a breeze.

Like many other organizations, the Hack the North team uses Slack to communicate online. We love being able to format our message text, have different channels for different topics, and create custom emojis! We have both work and fun channels, from #marketing-feedback and #infrastructure, to #random, and our team retreat channel (more on the team retreat in a moment 👀).

Team Bonding 💙

Hack the North values team bonding, and it’s as important as any other aspect of our organization. Team bonding is crucial for building chemistry between team members and boosting team motivation. Good interpersonal relationships between individuals increase group performance and proficiency in problem-solving.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team came up with unique remote ways of team bonding through video chats. Organizers on the team have gotten onto online calls to make pasta from scratch, have paint nights, bake, play online board games, and even hold work sessions together. Our #kudos channel lets organizers post thank you messages to other organizers for everyone to see, and is a great way to help team members feel appreciated after completing a major project milestone.

Our 2020++ Frontend Team during a social

During the 2022 organizing season, restrictions eased, and our organizers restarted the tradition of an annual in-person Hack the North organizer retreat — a weekend-long cottage excursion for the entire team. We built a fire, ate s’mores and hot dogs, and explored the beauty of western Ontario together! In 2023, we plan to bring the new team together with another amazing retreat 😄

The 2022 Team Retreat — Team photo + Sunset at the beach 🤗

At Hack the North, organization, communication, and team bonding are essential for organizing the event. Putting effort into these elements is how our team has been able to thrive and successfully plan our hackathon remotely for years. As long as you have a stable internet connection, almost anything can be done remotely!

In 2022, our team successfully brought together 1,000+ students from 20+ countries for a 36-hour event full of learning, friendship, and building amazing things. This year, we hope to repeat this same feat, bigger and better than ever before.

Want to be part of our team? Until February 10, 2023 @ 11:59 PM ET, we’re hiring organizers for our 2023 team! Visit hackthenorth.com/join for more info and to see the available positions.

Thanks for reading this updated blog, and thanks to Anna Liang for writing the original!

Hack the North 2023 will take place in September at the University of Waterloo 🎉 At the time of this blog’s publishing, the official event dates have not yet been announced. Sign up for our mailing list at hackthenorth.com to hear the latest from Hack the North! ⚙️

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Hack the North

1,000+ students from across the globe join us at Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, for 36 hours of dreaming big and building incredible projects.