What's a Virtual Social Hackathon?
Voice123 ran a one-day virtual social hackathon to get the entire company involved in brainstorming solutions at a jam-packed pace for Project Authentic Voices. In October 2020, we put out a very high-level and visionary piece, stating what our objectives are as a company to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the voiceover industry.
But we don’t want to be a business that’s all talk and no show.
So we began to brainstorm our next steps. It felt a little messy; we were working on a detailed guideline for our rules of engagement, how Voice123 approaches the topic of accents and language, intertwined with the complexities of artificial intelligence. We asked for help in creating a list containing terminology we’d refrain from using in project descriptions. The goal was to set up triggers to educate clients when such words or phrases appeared in correspondence or project briefs.
However, it didn’t seem as though we were tackling the root of the issues. We took a step back and CEO Rolf Veldman suggested holding a hackathon. It fell very close to our company strategy week, fitting in with all our planning for the upcoming quarters.
…. What better way to brainstorm, right?
Two things immediately came to mind:
- Virtual: hackathons are usually done in person over the span of a weekend, or a longer period of time. Of course, as a globally distributed remote team living in the COVID-19 era, we couldn’t do that, but this was our hackathon so we tweaked the rules a bit. We told the teams that a working ‘prototype’ wasn’t necessary and that a presentation would suffice.
- Social: the question to tackle was: “how can we improve equality in the voiceover industry?”
Case Study: How we structured our Virtual Social Hackathon
We took a board game-ified approach, which probably happened because Rolf is a boardgame guru. The leadership team (CEO, Head of Business Ops, and Head of Engineering) took a neutral stance. Instead, they assumed the position of ‘Elder’ whom teams could consult if they had questions.
We also invited four Voice123 voice actors to join the Hackathon panel as well. Enter Dave Braxton, Andrés Gonzalez, Crystal Cohen and Donald Elivert. They were our ‘Experts’; every team could book a single 15 minute consultation session with them. We could ask questions, hash out ideas, test feasibility and usability of ideas, and so on.
On a team level, a nasty bug hit our platform and took away our core engineers and Customer Success team (yes, there were some team members who had to juggle work in the midst of work sessions). Every team also experienced something of a disadvantage in terms of focus.
Some teams almost took 10 hours to come up with a condensed problem statement! In many instances, frustration and irritation surfaced as the clock ticked away. All a part of the challenge, right?
It’s easy to forget that there are people on the other side.
Having voice actors present and meeting the team behind Voice123 was very special. Unless you work in a position where you’d be communicating with voice actors (like our customer success team), others wouldn’t come in contact with any of the voice actors. But having both sides meet? It humanizes the experience. Because sometimes, we forget that there are people on the other side, and vice versa.
Listening to stories first hand is very impactful.
Hearing the voice actors’ personal stories and watching the reactions of team members was priceless and impactful. A question came about; how could we implement that into our storytelling efforts?
Timezone inclusivity is easier said than done.
After our diversity, equity and inclusion workshop during our virtual company retreat, we knew we had to do better for our members. We tried applying our learnings in this event.But only securing 4 Experts within the Americas timezone spoke volumes to the amount of effort we could’ve put in to find others around the world. Logistically, the dependencies were inevitably a challenge; those we did reach out to either got back to us too late, or couldn’t join. We should’ve reached out earlier. Perhaps we need to connect with more voice actors in other regions of the world. Voice123 is (and has historically been) very America-centric. If we want to be more inclusive and expand, we need to actively do so.
Know the industry you work for.
I think it’s very evident that no matter what your role is, if you do not spend time understanding the industry you’re inciting change for and how your work can make an impact, you’ll never improve. In whichever way we achieve this (through focus hours, or improving our onboarding documentation), the importance of familiarization must be stressed.
The day after the virtual social hackathon we returned and presented our ideas to the Elders and Experts. Three out of four teams presented solutions that had to do with accessibility and education, and one team presented a solution that could be integrated with our current platform and educates clients. That team, the Dream Team, won and donated the $1000 USD winnings to FRIDA, an organization that supports young feminist groups in the Asia-Pacific region.