Note from the editor: The timing of this article is especially apt as we're fortunate enough to have Myrsini put these tips and many more into practice at our internal #onehack Hackathon today in London. If you'd like to take part in our next #onehack or learn more about life at Nexmo check out our careers page.
Let’s be fair, hackathons can be a significant time commitment. They usually span from 24 to 48 hours and often take place over weekends. Whilst the student hackathon scene is still booming, hackathons aimed at professional audiences seem to be in decline. Have priorities shifted? Or are attendees simply choosing to spend time with friends and family, pursue their hobbies or relax after a long working week over participating in a hackathon?
At the same time, issues such as wellbeing, mindfulness and professional burnout are front and centre not only in the tech industry but on a global scale. It’s no coincidence that the wellness market is now estimated at a mammoth $4.2 trillion. The movement has even reached the large scale event universe with everything from meditation to spas being on offer.
It’s apt to say that considering your attendees’ social, mental and physical well-being when planning your hackathon is crucial to their happiness. Happy attendees equals a successful event. The success of your hackathon should be measured beyond the number of projects built and the amount of knowledge shared. It highly depends on what your attendees think about the experience you created. They’ll want to feel comfortable and healthy while at the hackathon and also have enough recovery time before they go back to their everyday routine.
With that in mind, here are a few simple things you can do to incorporate wellness into your event, whether you’re running a small internal hackathon or a student one with thousands of attendees.
Moving away from the hackathon staple, the mighty pizza, will take you a long way. Aim for wholesome meals, seasonal fruit, nutritious snacks and try to find a good replacement for sugar-packed energy drinks. Some indulgence is still expected, but try to offer an alternative. If you’re sending out a registration form be sure to ask about attendees’ dietary requirements. They’ll feel you’re creating an inclusive environment even before arriving at your event. You want to avoid people having to bring their own food or end up feeling unwell due to the lack of food options.
Even if your event is not running overnight it’s good to provide quiet and dark rooms for people to relax or sleep in. You can ask attendees to bring their own sleeping bags, however, you should also provide some blankets, comfy furniture or mattresses. To add to both the well-being and inclusive atmosphere of your hackathon, separate your quiet spaces by gender.
Consider whether running the hackathon overnight is needed. Could you achieve the same outcomes over two 12 hour hacking periods that run during the day? If your venue does not allow for a sleeping area then make it a priority to break the event up to two or more days. Also, if hacking overnight is something most of your attendees are looking forward to, make sure you give everyone the option to leave and come back the next day - choosing a venue location with good links to public transport can be key to this.
I used to run a global hackathon series where back and neck massages were considered the standard across every stop. You’ll find therapists specialising in event chair massages that can offer 10 or 20 minute sessions per attendee in all major cities. If that’s not possible where you are, see if you can find a local physiotherapist that can offer a similar service. Another thing you can offer is Yoga. If you can’t spare the budget to hire a professional instructor you can substitute this by gathering all attendees and demonstrating some basic stretches in the morning or other times during the day.
Try and choose a venue with shower facilities. Especially if you’re asking people to stay overnight it’s a level of comfort they’ll appreciate. Giving out toiletries and personal hygiene products is always a plus.
No one wants to be stuck in a freezing cold or really hot venue for a long period of time. Especially if they’ll be sitting in a chair for hours on end. Make sure you speak with the building or venue manager before the event so you know what to do if temperatures fluctuate during the course of the hackathon. You’ll never be able to cater to everyone’s exact taste but you can avoid making them feel uncomfortable. For example, getting some portable heaters for a large open space would prevent attendees leaving the hackathon in the middle of the night because it’s too cold to stay.
Injecting some fun activities into your hackathon will force people to have breaks and get out of their seats. You can also try to space out meals so they never run out of energy. Having a break from hacking, even just to grab a snack, will help people clear their heads, stay focused and be more productive.
Finally, if you’re running a community or student hackathon you can always get sponsors to support specific wellness activities. Yoga sessions, massages and toiletry packs are some of the things you can offer and sponsors are often looking for new ways to increase their visibility at events.