Our 4 month COVID-aversary

Posted by Patti Mikula on July 13, 2020

Saturday marked four months since the Hackworks team began working remotely by default. It has been a whirlwind and I had to check the calendar several times to make sure I had it right. In any given moment it can feel like it was just a few weeks since we’ve been in the office or it can feel like forever. Everyone jokes that in the COVID era time has no meaning, and it feels so true. 

So what has the last four months looked like for Hackworks? Here’s a look at our journey. 

The First Day: March 11, 2020

What ended up being the first day of our office being empty for the next four months (and counting) happened by coincidence. The week the lockdown started here in Toronto part of the team was busy executing the Stantec Idea Hack in Tampa, a couple of team members were on vacation, and – out of an abundance of caution – one of our team who was feeling under the weather worked from home (thankfully it was no more than allergies or a cold). By happenstance, the rest of the team was already working remotely that week.. There was nothing particularly remarkable about that day. We’re a small team and our client programs can take us anywhere, so it’s not uncommon for our team to be spread out around the world and for our office to sit empty. But we never predicted this would be the first day of so many. 

The First Week: March 11 to March 17

The first week was pretty hectic. We had a live pitch day planned on March 21 in Kelowna for our AquaHacking BC program. Some team members were scheduled to fly out for that, as were sponsors, judges and participants. On March 11 we started working on a contingency plan, and soon after the decision was made to pivot our in-person semi-final to an all-digital one. We had five days to reimagine the program and plan for our teams to pitch their solutions to wicked water issues remotely. At the same time, our participants were dealing with radical changes in their own lives with schools closing campuses, jobs being shuttered and the overall uncertainty of the future. The execution was a challenge and there were a few kinks we would have worked out had we had more time, but I was really proud of the team and how it all came together. And the pitches were awesome! If you want to see the AquaHacking BC winners, you can check them out here

The First Month: March 11 - April 11

Once we had the AquaHacking BC event under our belt we turned our thoughts to “what next”? At that point it started to sink in that this virus was very serious and things weren’t going to return to “normal” for quite some time. We rapidly turned our attention to the other programs on our roadmap. Our AquaHacking program is taking place in three cohorts this year, and after AquaHacking BC we had to turn our attention to AquaHacking Winnipeg and AquaHacking Atlantic Canada. Fairly early on it was decided that those two events would also be held virtually, and  thankfully we had more than five days to plan them this time around! You can check out the AquaHacking Winnipeg semi-finals here and the AquaHacking Atlantic semi-finals here.  

At that point we were also in the early stages of planning the 2020 Digital for Good Tech Jam scheduled for the fall. With so much uncertainty and not knowing what the world  would look like in 6+ months, we spent hours considering every possibility of how to best move forward. We  stretched our imagination to plan for the challenges of a virtual event, but ensure we leverage the benefits! You can take a look at our thought process in our blog post Planning for Normal: 4 Critical Questions to ask Yourself. Ultimately, the decision was made for the program to be held 100% virtually. Ultimately, we’re excited at the opportunities this new approach will present. For the first time, we will be able to include charities and participants from much further afield. 

We also started thinking about how we could get involved in solving for some of the challenges related to the COVID lockdown. Looking around our own team and community, we were cognizant of the imbalanced burden that the lockdown was placing on women. Women were disproportionately affected by layoffs. But at the same time, women were more likely than men to be working in high-risk, front-line positions. And those women working from home were also disproportionately carrying the burden of childcare and teaching while carrying on their day-to-day work responsibilities. We decided to launch Solve for X, an idea hack to consider the ways in which women were impacted by COVID-19 and identify potential solutions. 

The First Four Months: March 11 - July 11

With the first four months of the lockdown behind us we are starting to see some return to normalcy. We run hackathons, design jams, workshops and bootcamps, which have historically been a mix of in-person and virtual events. We expect that virtual events will be the default for our programs for the next year or more, so we have spent the past four months enhancing the capabilities of our Hackworks.com platform and prioritizing features and functionality related to virtual programs. We’re excited about the progress we have made, and for the features in development. 

We are still all working remotely, and while we’re missing the in-person interactions with our team members (and the world!), we are embracing the freedom to work from wherever we are. Some have gone to stay with family outside of the city, some have worked from cottages and some have worked from their deck. We have always embraced working from home, but I expect, like many other companies, we’ll definitely see more remote working in the future, and we’ll definitely be more practiced in how we can do so while still staying connected. 

In the early days of the pandemic we saw many companies pressing pause on any new programs in the hopes that more time would give more clarity on the future state. Now four months in, we are seeing many companies pressing ahead with plans for this fall and Q1 of next year, feeling more confident in their ability to deliver despite the uncertainty of what the world will look like then. We’re excited about the programs we have on the calendar for later this year and next year, and the ones we are in the early stages of defining with our clients. 

The saying is that hindsight is 2020, but in this moment I feel like 2020 is about foresight. It is all about divining what the future will look like when we don’t even fully grasp what is happening right now.