With all of the benefits of ‘Work from Wherever’ the biggest downside is inability to easily get together. This became even more painfully evident as the planning team for our annual hackathon, Rocket Science, realized that the organic nature of the event would have to change to allow everyone, attending both in-person and remote, to truly experience it. Zoom burnout and forgotten team members seemed inevitable, but after much discussion a new piece of software was suggested: enter Gather.
According to their site, Gather is simply “a better way to work, host events, learn, hang out, and gather.” This game-like environment is centered around fully customizable spaces (think conference rooms, lounges, even fantasy taverns if that’s your jam) combined with proximity chat (meaning conversations in a room of a hundred people are limited to the few people around you). Keeping the ease of collaboration and the privacy of spatial limitations this amazing platform made spending time together online as easy as it is in real life.
After one test our team was sold. We immediately dove into organizing and building out a custom map, creating an onboarding flow, and integrating portals throughout the space to make it as user friendly as possible.
In designing our space, we wanted to keep it as close to the office as possible to allow some of our remote rocketeers who have never been the opportunity to experience it in some small way.
The day of Rocket Science 2021 came; it was amazing. Team members could easily walk down a hallway and pop in and out of different rooms, say “hello” or participate in whatever random activities were happening. For fully remote teams, they were able to meet inside of their rooms and collaborate easily. Gather allowed us to provide the same interaction we were used to, in a fun and engaging fashion.
Personally, my project team would not have been as successful as we were without Gather. Our project relied on our larger team of 9 breaking down into two smaller groups and then regrouping consistently throughout Rocket Science. So I set up our area in Gather to have designated private areas. Being able to simply walk over to one of these designated spaces made organic collaboration so much easier for my 50/50 team of in-person and remote Rocketeers.
In order to write a 9-page comic in 48 hours my team had to break up into writing and drawing breakout groups to complete everything on time. Having designated spaces for those groups helped to keep us from talking over each other as we worked.
Going beyond the individual project teams, one of the coolest things we were able to do through Gather was set up in our kitchen (which we lovingly refer to as 10-Forward). We took one of our rolling video conference set-ups (i.e. a TV with a mac mini, camera, and speaker attached to it), and put it in the kitchen with an open stream during the duration of the event. This served as a general bridge between in-person and remote Rocketeers, where remote participants could walk up to the stream in our digital space and be able to engage with those in our physical space, and vice versa. Our judges even used this set-up to explore the digital projects just as easily as they had walked through the office for the in-person presentations.
On the far right you can see Calvin making the award announcements to our remote Rocketeers, through the video conference set-up next to him, and in-person Rocketeers.
Overall, Rocket Science 2021 will forever be marked by our experiences thanks to Gather. We are excited to watch it grow in the coming years, and we can’t wait to see what amazing uses we can find for it in the future of our ‘Work from Wherever’ world.