How more inclusive hackathons can yield useful innovation

WeWork’s tech ambassador program brings together multiple teams to brainstorm new products

When Laura Rossi, a community lead at WeWork 205 Hudson St in New York, joined WeWork’s tech ambassador program, she never imagined she’d be presenting an idea for an innovative key tracking product in front of a panel of judges, including WeWork’s chief technology officer Shiva Rajaraman. However, this was exactly the community product team’s intention behind the launch of WeWork’s tech ambassador program—to give community teams around the world the chance to create products that would enhance the WeWork member experience and streamline the billing process, alongside the company’s technology teams. 

For Rossi, the chance to collaborate was both exciting and rewarding. “It was eye-opening to witness the members of the technology department work so hard to automate and remove as many tedious tasks and functions on the back end of our systems,” she says. “It was all with the goal of giving invaluable time back to our community teams so we can fully engage with our members, create human connections, and improve the overall member experience.”

This month, as WeWork’s technology team grew to 1,000 employees worldwide, tech ambassadors who submitted product ideas around billing and member experience were chosen to join the technology team in Tel Aviv for their hackathon.

For three days in June, representatives from the billing, product, and engineering teams came together with a diverse group of community employees to bring their ideas to life. Participants came from Austin, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, New York, Bangalore, and Tel Aviv—and aside from the inspiring projects and cross-functional meetings, the major takeaway from the 110-person hackathon was that we are better equipped to solve problems for our global community when we embrace the diversity of our teams.

The first step to creating these products was identifying the central needs of our community employees. Allyx Teel, a community lead at WeWork 353 Sacramento St in San Francisco, explains how she, Rossi, and their hackathon team of 11 software engineers, product manager, and community team members worked together on a key and keycard tracking idea. “We found a large empty office and started by creating a mind map on one of the glass walls,” she says. “By the end of the first few hours, the glass was covered in our notes, breaking down the intricacies of the issue and how we’d like to resolve it.”

Their end product was a true team effort. “We added a key tracker to Spacestation [our building management system] to audit keys issued and returned, as well as a way to track keycard returns on each company’s profile,” Teel explains. Without such a tracking process in place, members might return keys and keycards and not get credit for the return, resulting in charges to their accounts. “It was exhilarating to work in a fast-paced environment and play a direct role in the solution of a problem that we face every day. I really felt that we were making an impact on a tool that the rest of our global company might be able to use.”

Other teams worked on refining the technology behind the member move-in experience, streamlining tools to connect members, and further automating billing processes. The winning team built a prototype called “Automatic Invoice Resolution,” which reduces community employees’ time spent reviewing member invoices manually.

The experience did more than generate creative solutions to persistent pain points—it brought together teams that don’t normally get a chance to work together, and gave everyone a sense of being part of something greater. “Collaborating with a billing lead from India, a community lead from San Francisco, and an engineer from Tel Aviv gave me a strong feeling of connection,” says community lead Maddie Rish, who works at WeWork 600 Congress Ave in Austin. “It reminded me that we are a part of a global community.”

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