By Jess Melia •

How To Improve Staff Engagement: Hack Days

In the current work climate, it can be difficult to even think of ways to engage your staff, let alone excel in it. Companies everywhere are invested in growing their business while desperately trying to recruit staff to manage the incoming workload. But how do you make sure your employees are able to stay motivated to do work that also benefits your business?

According to this insightful Forbes article, data suggests that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. In other words, only 15% are emotionally invested and committed to the work they do outside of their personal lives. The rest are apparently not engaged or actively disengaged.

We believe a key element for improving staff productivity and engagement is by actively encouraging learning and development in areas that interest people individually. We try to live by this not only in our day-to-day work, but in how we support our staff outside of client-based task. We’ve found time and again the best way to do this is through dedicated Hack Days.

We like to devote an entire day to further learning and group collaboration at least once per quarter. We encourage people to choose something to work on they feel will benefit them or their progression; whether that’s learning a new tool or flexing the creative muscles and collaborating on a far-fetched idea, we love to see it!

Read below to see what we got up to on our most recent hack day, or if you’re wondering how to run a successful hack day – read our quick tips here.

Parallax Hack Day Round Up: Spring 2019

Parallax Global Search – James Hall

“At an agency, you inevitably end up working with lots of 3rd-party web apps. Some clients use Basecamp, you’ll use Jira, designers have all their files somewhere else. It all gets a bit all over the place.

“I had the idea for a global “Parallax Search” a while back but managed to get my teeth fully sunk into it last hack day. The crawler goes and gets Jira projects, files from Seafile, timesheet projects in Harvest, Confluence documents, and a bunch of other stuff and makes it searchable in one place. Initially, we tried Algolia but for 9 million objects (which is what we ended up crawling in the end) it was a bit too expensive.

“I’ve always loved the simplicity of Apple’s Spotlight since I first used it. My colleague Andy Hart suggested we hook it into there. I didn’t quite manage that but I did get it hooked into Alfred. Every keystroke executes our code which then does a search on the index. The icons are pulled from the local filesystem. Hitting enter takes you straight to that item! I think it’s going to be a big timesaver when it’s finished – I’m looking forward to working on it some more.

“We’re using Laravel Jobs for indexing in the file search, there’s an indexer job which recursively calls itself on each folder. This means we can run the indexing jobs in parallels which massively speeds things up. “

Custom Parallax Map – Emma Grandich

“I chose to spend this hack day learning how to use Adobe Illustrator – what better way to celebrate the new office move than to illustrate our very own map of the new Parallax office! It was a creative way of getting comfortable with the interface and the various tools available. I had a lot of fun creating the custom map and I’m excited to use Illustrator again for bigger projects.”

Parallax Industry Presentation – Jamie, Katie & Simon

“Having previously been invited to Leeds City College to run two industry days, we decided to create a new presentation for such occasions focusing on what it’s like to work in the digital sector. We’ve focused on the different job roles that you will likely see within the industry as well as different career paths you can take.

“We selected a bunch of case studies to demonstrate the range of projects that we produce for clients, as well as creating a 60-minute workshop designed to engage students and give them a taster of what it’s like to work at a digital agency.”

WebGL Debugging Tools – Gareth Battensby

“I decided to go back through all the lessons we learned during our last WebGL project and use them to create some debugging tools to help streamline the process for next time. These included:

  • A screen resizing tool that shows the most common resolutions overlaid onto each other to quickly find layout problems.
  • Framerate throttling to help save battery life during periods of inactivity on mobile.
  • A mini WebGL scene that thoroughly tests support for features on first load before loading the main app.

I also started work on a font renderer with Unicode support.”

Developing Staff On-boarding Microsite – Katie & Fraser

“At Parallax, we’re an ambitious company with grand ideas, but we’re also a family of designers, developers, project managers and everything in between. We wanted a way to show all this to new starters to get them jumping into the company with their best foot forward.

We started the day developing the current on-boarding document that we give to new starters – currently, it only goes over our internal tools we use and doesn’t put much emphasis on who everybody is or the story of the company. So with new ideas like an area map or a “who’s who” of Parallax, this could help starters feel part of the family quicker.

Also wanting to showcase our digital expertise, Frazer began designing a microsite for all this information to live on, the idea being it would be easily accessible and can be changed quickly as Parallax continues to grow and evolve.”

Pumpkin.js – Sam Beevors

“We abandoned jQuery at Parallax several years ago, but often we miss some of the super simple functions it offers. Where modern javascript makes a lot of previously complex code a lot easier, it still leaves a little to be desired. I created Pumpkin to bridge that gap.

It’s a super lightweight, dependency-free package which adds some basic functions to achieve a little bit more than you could with just the built-in functions. We often found ourselves writing the same code multiple times in a project to achieve the same, small goal. With Pumpkin, we just use a well-tested, cross browser solution, and keep our code simple and clean.

Pumpkin is tested using Jest, and is set up with husky to automatically test the project every time it is updated. Pumpkin is open source and available right now, check it out and get involved on GitHub."

Central V2 – Harry Parton

“At Parallax we use a check in/out tool called Central to monitor our hours worked for the week – it’s really useful as everyone comes and goes at different times thanks to our flexitime policy. The original version of Central was built over 4 years ago in a framework we no longer use and has had some pretty substantial changes bolted on over the years.

I’ve started to rebuild this from the ground up to meet our modern standards – I wanted to make it nicer to use and easier to extend in the future. As a frontend developer, this was a great opportunity to get a much deeper understanding of Laravel. I’ll be working on it more during my spare time.”

Coeliac Microsite – Phil, Bryan & Jess

“Since Phil suffers from coeliac disease, we wanted to create an informative microsite that would raise awareness for the disease. We wanted the site to be fun and light-hearted, so aimed for a friendly UI aesthetic. The site would follow the journey of food within the body, all the while explaining certain facts and figures about being coeliac.

Emulating the rotary movement of interacting within the site, typography will appear to swirl around the central illustrative elements as a metaphor to how coeliac disease hangs upon a human being’s life. We used an example image for the design because we didn’t have time to create the 3D design ourselves but this was the route we wanted to take.”

Central Electron – Brad Cornes

“As Harry explained above, we use a custom website called Central to track how many hours we’ve worked. I made a start on a menubar app which allows you to see how many hours you have tracked at a glance, and to check in or out at the click of a button. The app is built with Electron, Preact, Emotion, and Parcel. The next step is to set up automatic updates so that any member of the team can easily contribute to development.”

Learning Vue – Andy Hart

“I built a simple Higher or Lower card game using Vue in order to dive right in and learn Vue a little better. I had only touched on the basics on previous projects, but thought creating something from scratch would allow me to learn the ins and outs rather than picking up existing code written by someone else.”

If hack days are something that interest you, check out our careers page to see if there’s a role for you here at Parallax. And if you’re on the hunt for web design, web development or digital marketing skills, check out our services to see if we can be of help.