Planning a hackathon remotely

Hack the North
4 min readJun 25, 2020


Written by: Anna Liang

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 (as well as memes) about Hack the North.

Thanks to most of our organizers being in co-op programs at the University of Waterloo, 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. Despite the juggle of coordinating between classes, work hours, and time-zones, our team has always been able to persevere and thrive.

Nowadays, we’re fortunate to have 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 easy and 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 requirement documents, and marketing copies — the list goes on. There is so much that needs to be documented and it’s important to keep it all organized for smooth planning and referencing. Maintaining organization will prevent losing track of documents, and also allow other team members to easily find the necessary resources and information. With so many people requiring access and 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 of projects. It’s crucial that plans are kept organized so that progress can be overseen. One of the tools we use is Jira, a project management software that allows us to easily create visual roadmaps and track tasks from start to finish. Google Calendar is also 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, today’s technology makes interacting with team members simple. Meetings are essential for collaboration, discussions, updates, and announcements which are now done online. It’s more efficient to have discussions over a video conference than sending messages back and forth. At Hack the North, we use Google Meet since it’s one of the built-in features of G Suite. When creating a meeting event with other organizers on Google Calendar, a video conferencing link is automatically created which is very convenient.

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!

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. With remote teams, there is no in-person interaction which means that extra effort needs to be put into team bonding.

With the coronavirus pandemic, our team came up with many 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 do work together. The Donut app gives us the incentive to pair up with other organizers on the team that we may be unfamiliar with and hop on a call to get to know each other. There is no shortage of ways to build our team chemistry remotely, and we’re constantly thinking of new ways to interact with one another.

Our Frontend, Backend, and Logistics teams during their socials.

At Hack the North, organization, communication, and team bonding are three aspects that are essential for online planning. 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!

Hack the North is scheduled for January 15–17, 2021 🎉

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to push the event back from our usual September date. To reflect this we’re naming this iteration of the event, Hack the North 2020++

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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.