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Remote work has become increasingly common in the past few years. With seventy-six percent of employees saying they don’t want to be in the office full time, if at all, remote work is probably here to stay. But this type of work does have its disadvantages. Organizations face the challenge of virtual team building and maintaining the company culture, despite their teams being scattered across the globe. Fostering a strong sense of team spirit and camaraderie is essential for employees to feel connected to their work, their colleagues, and their employer.
For remote teams, however, team-building exercises are often an overlooked essential activity. Platforms that are primarily used for team communication and collaboration, like Zoom, Slack, or Discord, can also be leveraged for fun and engaging team-building events. With remote work, employee interactions are often almost entirely work-related, without the usual water cooler break chats. Though this may potentially boost productivity, it will likely do so at the expense of team members’ morale and sense of belonging that’s fostered by casual, friendly interaction with their coworkers.
In this article, you’ll learn about five 5-minute team-building activities that can help employees unwind, bring them together, and promote team cohesion. These activities can help employees share their fun, quirky sides, and offer everyone a bit of a break.
Five 5-Minute Team-Building Activities
While there are many great ways for your team to interact and do things together, this list can serve as a good starting point. It focuses on team-building activities that can be done quickly, with little or no preparation, but still offer plenty of opportunity for bonding, laughter, and understanding between teammates.
Share Your GIF
In this activity, everyone shares a GIF or a meme that represents how they feel, or how their weekend or previous day was. Websites like Giphy and Reddit are full of fun content that’s sure to elicit a laugh.
This activity can be held in real time at the start of a weekly meeting, or asynchronously on Slack or Discord. You could even use it as part of a daily check-in.
Why This Activity?
If a picture says a thousand words, a GIF says even more. This activity helps employees express themselves, and maybe share a laugh. It can also provide conversational fodder for later, either with the whole group or in small, spontaneous groups on platforms like Slack.
In a virtual hat game, everyone adds one or more facts about themselves or brief anecdotes about their lives to a “hat” from which the facts will be drawn. For remote teams, the “hat” can be a simple shared Google doc. To play the game, someone reads one of the facts, and participants try to guess which of their teammates submitted it. The more unexpected or unlikely the anecdotes shared are, the more fun the game is.
It’s similar to the game “Never Have I Ever”, and leaves people with a sense of amazement (or at least amusement) at some of the inspiring, unlikely, or just plain weird things people in the team have done in their past.
You could also do a themed version of this, in which all the facts have to relate to a certain topic, such as past jobs, animals, work-related skills, or hobbies.
Why This Activity?
In a remote environment where work-related talk dominates, there aren’t many organic opportunities to share personal stories and let coworkers discover each others’ personalities. This activity often reveals unique traits and experiences, which can lead to more conversation between employees, give employees a better understanding of their coworkers’ skills, and even give managers a better idea of how employees might be able to grow within the company.
If you already use team collaboration software like Slack, Discord, or Teams, there are probably plenty of channels about work, but they don’t have to all be about work. Something like a #Dog-of-the-Day channel to allow people to share pictures of pets can really boost morale.
Many corporations have dog-friendly policies for their physical office, and studies show that these reduce employee stress and improve employee engagement and retention—regardless of if the employee has a pet or not. Though studies haven’t been done on the effect of sharing pet pictures virtually, social media has plenty of people who feel it’s the best part of their day.
Why This Activity?
People love their pets—and most people love seeing other people’s pets, too. In remote settings, conversations are dominated by work-related messages and notifications, and pet photos can be a soothing break. It also offers something for employees to bond over, commiserating about dogs who demand to be walked at four in the morning or sharing pet-related hijinks and mishaps.
Show and Tell
Before your next team meeting gets going, take a few minutes to go around and offer people the chance to share something they’re proud of, happy about, or enjoying lately. These things might be physical objects they can actually show, like a sweater they’re knitting or their new keyboard, or less tangible things they can tell the team about, like having a great view of a recent meteor shower, finishing their first 5K, or the fantastic bread they made last weekend.
Why This Activity?
It’s nice to take a few minutes to recognize the things that are going well for your teammates, and to celebrate their victories, however small, with them. It also gives people an opportunity to learn more about their coworkers’ lives outside of work, and a chance to connect over shared interests that wouldn’t have come up otherwise.
When everyone’s in the office together, people bond naturally and instinctively by complimenting someone on their new haircut, asking what that delicious-smelling lunch is, or grousing together about the lousy weather. With a team scattered across the country, if not the globe, this sort of casual, friendly interaction is much harder. It’s easy to work with someone for months or even years, and then realize one day that you don’t know anything at all about where they live, or what their life is like outside of work.
Similar to #Dog-of-the-Day, a channel could be created for your team to share pictures from their lives: cute new shoes, a snowy morning, newly reorganized desk, or the first flowers of spring.
Why This Activity?
Sharing photos can be a great way to connect your team. It lets people share things that matter to them, and photos are an easy way to spark conversations about cooking, travel, gardening, hobbies, organization, and almost anything else people want to share.
Remote working is a challenge not only for the employees, but also for managers and leaders who care about creating a healthy, engaging work environment. Virtual work is dominated by work-related discussions, which can create fatigue and even burnout if not managed carefully. Fostering a sense of camaraderie and team spirit with fun and easy team-building activities helps boost morale, create friendly bonds between teammates, and make employees feel valued and respected as people, not just workers. Team-building activities can bring your team together, wherever they’re located—no office required.
I receive several messages about the benefits of joining FAANG and similar companies and startups in the context of Data Science, Machine Learning & AI roles.
Here’s my take, in no particular order:
1. 𝐁𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐝. FAANG+ are not only the top technology companies but also the biggest companies by market cap -> great brand to add to your profile, top compensation and benefits.
2. 𝐒𝐜𝐨𝐩𝐞. The scope of AI/ML applications in these companies is tremendous as they have tons of data. You can get to work on multiple use cases, driven by statistics, machine learning, deep learning, unsupervised / semi-supervised / self-supervised, reinforcement learning etc. Internal team transfers facilitate expanding your breadth of ML experience.
3. 𝐁𝐚𝐫. The AI/ML work is cutting edge, as most of these companies invest heavily in R&D and create game-changing techniques and models. They also invest heavily in platform, cloud, services etc. that make it easier to build and deploy ML products.
4. 𝐑&𝐃. You can do both research on moon-shot projects if that’s your cup of tea, as well as more immediate business-driven data science projects with monthly or quarterly deliverables.
5. 𝐏𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞. You get to work with the creme-de-al-creme in terms of talent, ideas, vision, and execution. Your own level will rise if you are surrounded by some of the brightest folks, and also get to collaborate with their clients and collaborators from academia, startups as well.
6. 𝐍𝐞𝐭𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤. After FAANG, people go on to do many diverse things — from building a startup to doing cutting-edge research to non-profits to venture capital amongst others. You can find quality partners for the next steps of your career journey.
7. 𝐒𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐬. Processes and systems for AI/ML/Data are more mature and streamlined than smaller/newer companies which can facilitate your speed and execution of your projects.
8. 𝐂𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞. The culture, on average, is more professional as these companies invest heavily in their employees and regularly come up with new employee-friendly policies to make it a great place to work.
9. 𝐅𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐝𝐨𝐦. After FAANG, you will be in demand and recruiters and hiring managers will seek you out if you’ve proved your chops whilst at the company. You will have more opportunities to sample from and greater freedom in terms of deciding your career and life trajectory, as you can also move internally to different countries.
10. 𝐈𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐜𝐭. Given the scale at which these companies operate, the scope for real-world measurable impact is enormous.
There are some downsides, caveats and exceptions as well, but on average these factors make FAANG and similar tech companies a very attractive proposition to launch, build and grow your career in data science and machine learning.
"Data democratization" has become a buzzword for a reason. Modern organizations rely extensively on data to make informed decisions about their customers, products, strategy, and to assess the health of the business. But even with an abundance of data, if your business can’t access or leverage this data to make decisions, it’s not useful. To that end, data democratization, or the process of making data accessible to everyone, is quintessential to data-driven organizations.
Providing data access to everyone also implies that there are few if any roadblocks or gatekeepers who control this access. When stakeholders from different departments—like sales, marketing, operations, and finance—are permitted and incentivized to use this data to better understand and improve their business function, the whole organization benefits.
Successful data democratization requires constant effort and discipline. It’s founded on an organization-wide cultural shift that embraces a data-first approach and empowers every stakeholder to comfortably use data and make better data-driven decisions. As Transform co-founder James Mayfield put it, organizations should think about "democratizing insights, not data."
In this article, I will provide a detailed overview of data democratization, why organizations should invest in it, and how to actually implement it in practice.
Why democratize access to data?
Historically, data used to be kept in silos, usually under the purview of the IT or Analytics departments. When any stakeholder from outside these departments required data for their work, they had to go through these data gatekeepers to access the necessary assets. This philosophy has been the norm for decades but is no longer relevant for modern data-driven organizations.
Removing these types of bottlenecks is a necessary first step toward data democratization. Guidelines for data democratization can be noted in a data governance framework to improve access and provide high-quality data for downstream analytics. Improving access is just the first step of an ongoing process where every individual employee is encouraged and trained to make use of data. The more people who can make decisions based on data, the more the organization stands to benefit from a variety of perspectives and ideas.
Companies have been dedicating huge investments in data infrastructure and tooling in order to build an analytics advantage over their competitors. The dream is to “democratize data” and get employees to change their ways of working and start making decisions informed by data, not gut feelings. By investing in data education and helping analysts influence, then building modern tools to support metrics, we will continue making progress toward that goal of truly democratized data" —James Mayfield, co-founder, Transform
While data analytics and business intelligence efforts are traditionally the domain of data experts, organizations can empower non-technical stakeholders to perform basic data operations via in-house training programs, workshops, and self-service tools that can simplify their onboarding and learning process. They can also use software that surfaces data in an easy-to-consume format for business stakeholders.
Data democratization has multiple downstream benefits. It leads to greater data literacy, which can facilitate not only greater data-driven decision-making but also potentially lead to creation of new products or services based on insights mined from the data. Therefore, greater democratization, usage, and adoption of a data-driven approach can unlock massive commercial value and new growth levers for businesses.
How do you actually democratize data?
Implementing data democratization is a hard challenge and an ongoing process. To be successful, it needs support, buy-in, and a lot of patience from the leadership. Apart from conceptualizing and implementing curated data governance frameworks and policies, organizations can leverage tools to enable data democratization at scale.
Tools to enable data democratization
The Data Catalog
A data catalog is a collection of metadata that, combined with data management and search tools, helps data stakeholders find and acquire data for downstream analytics. A data catalog provides a managed and scalable data discovery and metadata management capabilities which are fundamental requirements of attaining higher levels of data democratization in an organization.
The Data Mart
A data mart is a subset of a data warehouse focused on a specific business vertical or data domain. Data marts enable specific users to access specific data that empowers them to quickly access these datasets without wasting time searching for the same in the data warehouse. For instance, individual departments like sales, marketing, operations, and finance can have their respective data marts for accelerating their domain-specific data-driven decision making.
The Metrics Catalog
A metrics catalog is a new layer in the modern data stack. It is a centralized store for all of your organizations’ most important metrics (or key performance indicators) and it's uniquely positioned between the data warehouse and downstream tools. As a self-service place for business KPIs, every stakeholder in the organization has access to track their own metrics and share context with others.
By capturing core business metrics in this fashion and this location in the modern data stack, a metrics catalog provides immense visibility and transparency into an organization's most critical metrics and metric lineage for all stakeholders in an organization. This new concept of a metrics catalog can have a significant role to play in democratizing data to everyone.
As a single source of ground truth for business data, a metrics catalog enables diverse stakeholders to base all key decisions on the same foundation. It also allows for disparate teams to use the same metrics, ask questions, and keep everyone aligned and on track. This greatly enhances the level of data democratization within an organization.
Challenges for data democratization
Although the benefits of data democratization are pretty evident, there are also numerous challenges. Some challenges are common, like data being kept in silos and unclear data ownership. The informational silos problem is antithetical to data democratization, and can adversely impact an organization's ability to leverage data for improvising its business performance and decision making.
Different teams have ownership of different types of data, which contributes to the problem of information silos. When a particular team has exclusive access to specific data assets, they not only hinder other teams from accessing the data but also guard their analysis and insights derived from the same data. This often leads to duplication of efforts across teams, causing a massive waste of organizational time and resources. As each individual team or department hoards its own data and analyses, it contributes to the adoption of the same undemocratic processes across other teams further compounding the challenges in promoting data democratization.
With greater access to the organizational data assets, there is also a challenge of data security, privacy, and potential misuse of the data. It increases the number of gaps in the organization which might become vulnerable to adversarial attacks and data breachers. This is why it’s important to have a balance between data security and data access—including having stronger safeguards around who can access and analyze personally-identifiable information and customer data.
If implemented well, data democratization can provide an immense competitive edge that will only compound over time as organizations mature in their digital transformation journey.
Several tools and data artifacts can aid in better implementation and adoption of best practices and policies that help in democratizing data. A metrics catalog is one relatively new tool that provides a centralized store of business critical information accessible to multiple stakeholders. It captures essential business metrics and provides a simplified interface that is agnostic of the separate analytics, CRM, and BI platforms used by various teams in the organization. Learn more about how a metrics store can promote data democratization and governance at Transform.co.
Copyright © 2022, Sundeep Teki
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