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The Challenges of Managing Remote Teams and Tools to Help – ReadWrite

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The Challenges of Managing Remote Teams and Tools to Help - ReadWrite


The benefits of having a remote or partially remote team are striking and have become much more apparent in the last year. Studies show that remote workers are generally more productive, healthier, and happier than their office counterparts. At the same time, employers can experience 50% better retention and save $11,000 per remote work, per year, on average.

It isn’t easy to see why any manager wouldn’t want their team working remotely with all these benefits. However, some challenges have left some companies feeling unsure if they are ready to embrace a permanent remote workforce.

Fortunately, advances in automation tools can help ease the burdens on managers of remote teams. Read on to find out what challenges you may face as a remote team manager and how you can reduce the burden using automation.

Challenges of Managing A Remote Team And Creative Solutions

There will be different challenges for different industries. But, of course, every business and even every team within a company will have its own unique obstacles to overcome when it comes to managing remote workers.

There are a few key areas to be aware of. Here are some of the biggest frustrations of remote team managers and our favorite automation solutions.

Training and Onboarding

Providing effective training to new hires is one of the biggest challenges to managing a remote team. Some managers complain that when training new team members, they simply can’t judge the focus of the new remote hire over a screen, and it is harder to tell if they are really “getting it.”

A manager could sit down with a new hire in an office setting and watch them complete a task. The new hire could easily ask questions as they go, and the manager could observe their expressions and methods to make corrections before they become bad habits.

As a result of not seeing all of the nonverbal visual cues an employee might give during training, the onboarding process takes a lot longer, and managers are struggling to find the time.

Another challenge that can arise happens when training a group of new employees. Because everyone moves at their own pace, training a group over zoom or another video conferencing platform can prove very inefficient because some trainees will finish training tasks earlier than others and could spend hours of time simply waiting for the rest of the group to catch up.

Tools that can help: Automated Task Dependencies and Learning Management Systems (LMS)

If you have many new hires that must go through more complex or rigorous training, there are many cloud-based learning management systems that include automation.

Programs such as AbsorbLMS, Cornerstone, and Docebo will allow you to create an entire training program complete with tasks, materials, certificates, and more.

You can even create a training program that incorporates other departments and “gamifies” the training with awards and certificates so that employees are motivated and engaged with the material. With your training almost entirely automated, you may even spend less time training new hires than if they were physically in an office with you.

Additionally, when new employees can learn at their own pace, take quizzes along the way to make sure they understand the material, and receive fun incentives to complete assignments, training might be more effective than ever.

Tracking

With your team working from home, it can be challenging to know whether people are distracted, letting things fall through the cracks, or even sleeping on the job.

In some industries, it won’t matter when the work gets done as long as it gets done, but remote team managers still need an efficient way to keep track of all tasks, projects, and deadlines so that nothing is missed.

Employees may need to be awake and alert during working hours to answer occasional calls from clients and co-workers in other organizations. So how can managers in both of these situations keep track of everything without spending their entire day chasing down each individual remote worker or having workers waste hours filling out tedious reports?

Tools that can help: Activity Tracking, Repeating Reminders, and Form Automation Software

It is well known that you can use team collaboration software such as Slack to send out repeating reminders. So why not use this feature to send team members a weekly (or even daily) reminder to submit a recap of what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve been working on, or what their goals are?

Combine this with a form automation software such as Hubspot or Prontoforms. You can allow your employees to quickly and easily input updates on their day or week, and you can see the data all neatly displayed in an intuitive spreadsheet without wasting time on formatting.

Suppose you are concerned that employees may not be as alert as they need to be during business hours. In that case, activity tracking and sales automation software such as Pega can automatically track and monitor activities, emails, and even assignments given to other staff without employees entering any information. This way, your team can focus on the most critical work.

Collaboration

For busy teams, collaboration is always a challenge. Although the ability to work independently is essential for remote teams, hyper-independence can lead to disunity and problems that end up costing the company time and money. If you deal with different time zones and work around individual schedules, collaboration can become an even more significant challenge. It is essential for managers to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

The best way to do this is by implementing workflows that incorporate checks and balances between team members. This is easy to do with the right automation tools.

Automation Tools that can help: Project Management Software, Calendar Integration, and Recurring Meetings

Project management software platforms allow users to efficiently work on tasks collaboratively. For example, most platforms such as Asana will enable you to organize tasks and projects so that users with access to a particular project can see all tasks within the project, who is working on them, and how much progress has been made.

If a review of a document is necessary, it can be assigned to another team member automatically with a deadline set based on logic commands. When you add in Calendar integration, team members will be able to see at a glance which of their co-workers have availability to collaborate on projects, even if they are in different time zones.

Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom will allow managers to effortlessly schedule repeating team meetings. For example, when integrated with Slack, you can automatically send out reminders through the team collaboration software with a zoom link.

Final Thoughts

Businesses have been using automation for years to free up employees and managers from the monotonous, repetitive, and tedious aspects of their work to have the time and energy to focus on the complex, creative work they were hired for.

Excitingly, advances in automation technology have allowed for nearly limitless opportunities and ways to use the software. Now, with remote work at an all-time high, it is the perfect time to assess possible time and energy drains, pain points, and extra stress that has been brought about by the transition to a remote workforce.

Once you’ve identified these, it will be easier to find an automation software or feature to help your remote teams be productive, efficient and fulfilled.

Image Credit: rodnae productions; pexels; thank you!

Reuben Yonatan

Reuben Yonatan is the founder @ GetVoIP — an industry leading business comparison guide that helps companies understand and choose a VoIP system for their specific needs. Follow on Twitter @ReubenYonatan



Politics

How Alternative Data is Changing the Finance Sector

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How Alternative Data is Changing the Finance Sector


Alternative data has been touted as the future for various companies. Financial services companies have taken a particular interest in the field as it has the potential to either provide completely novel signals or improve existing investment strategies.

However, understanding the scale and importance of alternative data has always been challenging as businesses in the sector are often shrouded in mystery. Investing is extremely competitive as alpha often depends on the signal strength other companies can acquire.

Now, however, the veil has been lifted, even if slightly. Finally, there is enough data to understand how far alternative data and web scraping have entrenched themselves into the industry, allowing us to understand their importance.

What is alternative data and web scraping?

Alternative data is a negatively defined term meaning everything that is not traditional data. The latter is considered to be everything that’s published regularly according to regulations, government action, or other oversight. In other words, it’s all the data from statistics departments, financial reports, press releases, etc.

Since alternative data is defined negatively, it’s every information source that’s not traditional. While the definition is somewhat broad, alternative data does have its characteristics. Namely, it’s almost always unstructured, comes in various formats (i.e., text, images, videos), and often is extracted for a highly specific purpose.

Data acquisition is significantly more complicated because both the sources and the formats are varied. Data as a Service (DaaS) businesses can resolve most of the acquisition issues; however, finding one that holds the necessary information can be complex.

Web Scraping and in-house solutions in alternative data acquisition

Many companies turn to building in-house solutions for alternative data acquisition. One of the primary methods for doing so is called web scraping. In short, it’s a method of automating online public data collection by employing bots.

These solutions go through a starting set of URLs and download the data stored within. Most bots will also further collect any URLs stored on the page for continued crawling. As a result, they can blaze through many sources within seconds or minutes.

Collected data is then delivered and parsed for analysis. Some of it, such as pricing information, can be integrated into completely automated solutions. Other data, such as anything from which investment signals might be extracted, is analyzed manually by dedicated professionals.

Web scraping is shaping the financial services industry

As mentioned above, financial services and investment companies have taken a particular interest in web scraping earlier than nearly anyone else. These businesses thrive upon gaining an informational edge over their competitors or the market as a whole.

So, in some sense, it was no surprise when web scraping turned out to be a key player in the financial services industry. So we surveyed over 1000 decision-makers in the financial services industry across the US and UK regions to find out more about how data is being managed in these companies.

Image Credit: Oxylabs; Thank you!

 

While internal data, as expected, remains the primary source of insight for all decision-making, web scraping has nearly overtaken it in the financial services industry. Almost 71% of our respondents have indicated that they use web scraping to help clients make business decisions.

Web Scraping and Growth Tendencies

Other insights are even more illuminating. For example, while web scraping has shown clear growth tendencies, we didn’t expect 80% of the survey respondents to believe that the focus will shift towards it even more in the coming 12 months. Nevertheless, these trends indicate a clear intent to change the dominant data acquisition methods in the industry.

Finally, there’s reason to believe that the performance of web scraping is equally as impressive. There may have been reason to believe that the process of automated data collection is simply a byproduct of hype. Big data has been a business buzzword for the longest time, so it may seem that some of that emotion might have transferred to web scraping.

Implementing Web Scraping

However, those who have implemented web scraping do not seem to think it’s pure hype. Over a quarter of those who have implemented the process believe it has had the most significant positive impact on revenue. Additionally, nearly half (44%) of all respondents plan to invest in web scraping the most in the coming years.

Our overall findings are consistent across regions. As the US and UK are such significant players in the sector, the conclusions likely extend to global trends, barring some exceptions where web scraping might be trickier to implement due to legal differences.

The survey has only uncovered major differences in how web scraping is handled, not whether it’s worthwhile. For example, in the US, it’s rarely the case that compliance or web scraping itself would be outsourced (12% & 8%, respectively). On the other hand, the UK is much more lenient regarding outsourced departments (22% and 15% for outsourced compliance and outsourced web scraping, respectively).

Conclusion

While the way data is being managed in the financial services industry has been shrouded in mystery for many years, we’re finally getting a better glimpse into the trends and changes the sector has been undergoing. As we can see, web scraping and alternative data play a major role in shaping the industry.

Becoming the true first adopters of web scraping, however, I think, is only the beginning. Both the technology and the industry are still maturing. Therefore, I firmly believe we will see many new and innovative developments in data extraction and analysis in the finance sector, which novel web scraping applications will head.

Image Credit: Pixabay; Pexels; Thank you!

Julius Cerniauskas

CEO at Oxylabs

Julius Cerniauskas is Lithuania’s technology industry leader & the CEO of Oxylabs, covering topics on web scraping, big data, machine learning & tech trends.

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How to Implement a Splintered Content Strategy

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How to Use SEO if You Have No Experience


Content makes the marketing world go round. It doesn’t matter what your overarching marketing strategy looks like – content is the fuel source. You can’t go anywhere without it. The biggest problem is that content can be expensive to create. We operate in a business world where thousands of pieces of content are created every single second. Trying to keep up can feel like an expensive exercise in futility.

The key to successful digital marketing in an era of saturated online channels is extracting maximum value from your content. If the traditional approach is built around “single-use” content, you need to switch gears and opt for a multi-use approach that allows you to leverage the same content over and over again. One way to do this is by building out a “splintered” content strategy.

What is a Splintered Content Strategy?

The best way to understand the splintered approach to content creation is via an analogy. In the analogy, you start with one core topic that relates to your brand and readers. This topic is represented as a tree. Then, when you want to get more value out of the tree, you chop it down into big logs. These logs represent sub-topics of more significant topics. These logs can then be split and broken down into even smaller niches. (And this process of splintering the original topic into smaller/different pieces of micro-content can go on and on.)

Content splintering is not to be confused with content republishing or duplication. The mission isn’t to reuse the same content so much as to extract more value from the original content by finding new uses, applications, angles, and related topics. Not only does this approach help you maximize your ROI, but it also creates a tightly-correlated and highly-consistent web of content that makes both search engines and readers happy.

What You’ll Need for a Splintered Content Strategy

In order to get started with creating splintered content, you’ll need a few things:

  • Keyword research. The process always begins with keyword research. First, you need to perform detailed SEO research to zero in on the keywords that specifically resonate with your target audience. This feeds your topic selection and actual content creation. (You can think of keyword research as developing a blueprint. Just like you can’t build a house without plans, you can’t implement a splintered content strategy without keyword research.)
  • General topic. Armed with the right keywords, you can begin the process of choosing a broad topic. A general topic is a very basic, overarching topic that speaks to a specific target audience.
  • Content writers. You’ll need a team of people to actually create the content. While it’s possible to do this on your own, you ideally want to hire content writers to do the heavy lifting on your behalf. This allows you to focus on the big-picture strategy.
  • Consistency. A splintered content strategy requires consistency. Yes, there are ways to automate and streamline, but you have to ensure that you’re consistently churning out content (and that the content is closely correlated).

A good splintered content strategy takes time to develop. So, in addition to everything mentioned above, you’ll also need patience and resilience. Watch what’s working, and don’t be afraid to iterate. And remember one thing: You can always splinter a piece of content into more pieces.

How to Plan and Execute a Splintered Content Strategy

Now that we’re clear on splintered content and some of the different resources you’ll need to be successful, let’s dig into the actual how-to by looking at an illustration of how this could play out. (Note: This is not a comprehensive breakdown. These are merely some ideas you can use. Feel free to add, subtract, or modify to fit your own strategy needs.)

Typically, a splintered content strategy begins with a pillar blog post. This is a meaty, comprehensive resource on a significant topic that’s relevant to your target audience. For example, a financial advisor might write a pillar blog post on “How to Sell Your House.” This post would be several thousand words and include various subheadings that drill into specific elements of selling a house.

The most important thing to remember with a pillar post is that you don’t want to get to micro with the topic. You certainly want to get micro with the targeting – meaning you’re writing to a very specific audience – but not with the topic. Of course, you can always zoom in within the blog post, and with the splinters it produces, but it’s much more difficult to zoom out.

  • Turn the Blog Post Into a Podcast Series

Once you have your pillar piece of content in place, the splintering begins. One option is to turn the blog post into a series of podcast episodes. Each episode can touch on one of the subheadings.

If these are the subheadings from the blog post, they would look like this:

  • How to prepare for selling > Episode 1
  • How to find a real estate agent > Episode 2
  • How to declutter and stage your property > Episode 3
  • How to price your property > Episode 4
  • How to choose the right offer > Episode 5
  • How to negotiate with repair requests > Episode 6
  • How to prepare for closing day > Episode 7
  • How to move out > Episode 8

Depending on the length of your pillar content, you may have to beef up some of the sections from the original post to create enough content for a 20- to 30-minute episode, but you’ll at least have a solid outline of what you want to cover.

  • Turn Podcasts Into YouTube Videos

Here’s a really easy way to multiply your content via splintering. Just take the audio from each podcast and turn it into a YouTube video with graphic overlays and stock video footage. (Or, if you think ahead, you can record a video of you recording the podcast – a la “Joe Rogan” style.)

  • Turn YouTube Videos Into Social Clips

Cut your 20-minute YouTube video down into four or five different three-minute clips and soundbites for social media. These make for really sticky content that can be shared and distributed very quickly.

  • Turn Each Podcast Into Long-Form Social Posts

Take each podcast episode you recorded and turn them into their own long-form social posts. Of course, some of this content will cover information already hashed out in the original pillar post, but that’s fine. As long as you aren’t duplicating content word-for-word, it’s totally fine if there’s overlap.

  • Turn Long-Form Social Posts Into Tweets

Your long-form social posts can then be turned into a dozen or more individual short-form tweets. Find the best sentences, most shocking statements, and most powerful statistics from these posts and schedule a series of automated posts to go out over a few weeks. (You can automate this process using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer.)

  • Turn Content Into an Email Campaign

Finally, take your best content and turn it into a series of emails to your list. You may even be able to set up an autoresponder series that slowly drips on people with a specific call-to-action.

Using the example from this article, a real estate agent might send out a series of 10 emails over 30 days with a call-to-action to get a free listing valuation.

Take Your Content Strategy to the Next Level With Splintered Content Strategy

There isn’t necessarily a proper way to implement a splintered content strategy. But, like everything regarding marketing, there’s ample room for creativity.

Conclusion

Use the parts of this article that resonate with you and adapt the rest to fit your vision for your content. Just remember the core objective of this entire approach: content maximization.

The goal is to get the most value out of your content as possible. And you do that by turning each piece of content you create into at least one more piece of content. If you do this efficiently, you will be successful.

Image Credit: by Kampus Production; Pexels; Thank you!

Timothy Carter

Chief Revenue Officer

Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach — preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter

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Successful AI Requires the Right Data Architecture – Here’s How

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Successful AI Requires the Right Data Architecture - Here’s How


For companies that can master it, Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to deliver cost savings, a competitive edge, and a foothold in the future of business. But while the rate of AI adoption continues to rise, the level of investment is often out of kilter with monetary returns. To be successful with AI you’ll want the right data architecture. This article tells you how.

Currently, only 26% of AI initiatives are being put into widespread production with an organization. Unfortunately, this means many companies spend a lot of time on AI deployments without seeing tangible ROI.

All Companies Must Perform Like a Tech Company

Meanwhile, in a world where every company must perform like a tech company to stay ahead, there’s increasing pressure on technical teams and Engineering and IT leaders to harness data for commercial growth. Especially as spending on cloud storage increases, businesses are keen to improve efficiency and maximize ROI from data that are costly to store. But unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of time.

To meet this demand for rapid results, mapping data architecture can no longer stretch on for months with no defined goal. At the same time, focusing on standard data cleaning or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting is regressive.

Tech leaders must build data architecture with AI at the forefront of their objectives.

To do otherwise — they’ll find themselves retrofitting it later. In today’s businesses, data architecture should drive toward a defined outcome—and that outcome should include AI applications with clear benefits for end-users. This is key to setting your business up for future success, even if you’re not (yet) ready for AI.

Starting From Scratch? Begin With Best Practices for Data

Data Architecture requires knowledge. There are a lot of tools out there, and how you stitch them together is governed by your business and what you need to achieve. The starting point is always a literature review to understand what has worked for similar enterprises, as well as a deep dive into the tools you’re considering and their use cases.

Microsoft has a good repository for data models, plus a lot of literature on best data practices. There are also some great books out there that can help you develop a more strategic, business-minded approach to data architecture.

Prediction Machines by Ajay Agarwal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb is ideal for understanding AI at a more foundational level, with functional insights into how to use AI and data to run efficiently. Finally, for more seasoned engineers and technical experts, I recommend Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Kleppmann. This book will give you the very latest thinking in the field, with actionable guidance on how to build data applications, architecture, and strategy.

Three Fundamentals for a Successful Data Architecture

Several core principles will help you design a data architecture capable of powering AI applications that deliver ROI. Think of the following as compass points to check yourself against whenever you’re building, formatting, and organizing data:

  • Building Toward an Objective:

    Always have your eye on the business outcome you’re working toward as you build and develop your data architecture is the cardinal rule. In particular, I recommend looking at your company’s near-term goals and aligning your data strategy accordingly.

    For example, if your business strategy is to achieve $30M in revenues by year-end, figure out how you can use data to drive this. It doesn’t have to be daunting: break the more important goal down into smaller objectives, and work toward those.

  • Designing for Rapid Value Creation:

    While setting a clear objective is key, the end solution must always be agile enough to adapt to changing business needs. For example, small-scale projects might grow to become multi-channel, and you need to build with that in mind. Fixed modeling and fixed rules will only create more work down the line.

    Any architecture you design should be capable of accommodating more data as it becomes available and leveraging that data toward your company’s latest goals. I also recommend automating as much as you can. This will help you make a valuable business impact with your data strategy quickly and repeatedly over time.

    For example, automate this process from the get-go if you know you need to deliver monthly reporting. That way, you’ll only spend time on it during the first month. From there, the impact will be consistently efficient and positive.

  • Knowing How to Test for Success:

    To keep yourself on the right track, it’s essential to know if your data architecture is performing effectively. Data architecture works when it can (1) support AI and (2) deliver usable, relevant data to every employee in the business. Keeping close to these guardrails will help ensure your data strategy is fit for purpose and fit for the future.

The Future of Data Architecture: Innovations to Know About

While these key principles are a great starting place for technical leaders and teams, it’s also important not to get stuck in one way of doing things. Otherwise, businesses risk missing opportunities that could deliver even greater value in the long term. Instead, tech leaders must constantly be plugged into the new technologies coming to market that can enhance their work and deliver better outcomes for their business:

  • Cheaper Processing:

    We’re already seeing innovations making processing more cost-efficient. This is critical because many of the advanced technologies being developed require such high levels of computer power they only exist in theory. Neural networks are a prime example. But as the required level of computer power becomes more feasible, we’ll have access to more sophisticated ways of solving problems.

    For example, a data scientist must train every machine learning model. But in the future, there’s potential to build models that can train other models. Of course, this is still just a theory, but we’ll definitely see innovation like this accelerate as processing power becomes more accessible.

  • Bundled Tools:

    Additionally, when it comes to apps or software that can decrease time to value for AI, we’re in a phase now where most technology available can only do one thing well. The tools needed to productionize AI — like storage, machine learning providers, API deployment, and quality control — are unbundled.

    Currently, businesses risk wasting precious time simply figuring out which tools they need and how to integrate them. But technology is gradually emerging that can help solve for multiple data architecture use cases, as well as databases that are specialized for powering AI applications.

    These more bundled offerings will help businesses put AI into production faster. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in the fintech space. Companies initially focused on being the best in one core competency before eventually merging to create bundled solutions.

  • Data Marts vs. Data Warehouses:

    Looking further into the future, it seems safe to predict that data lakes will become the most important AI and data stack investment for all organizations. Data lakes will help organizations understand predictions and how best to execute those insights. I see data marts becoming increasingly valuable for the future.

    Marts deliver the same data to every team in a business in a format they can understand. For example, Marketing and Finance teams see the same data represented in metrics that are familiar and – most importantly – a format they can use. The new generation of data marts will have more than dimensions, facts, and hierarchy. They won’t just be slicing and dicing information — but will support decision-making within specific departments.

Conclusion

As the technology continues to develop, it’s critical that businesses stay up to speed, or they’ll get left behind. That means tech leaders staying connected to their teams, and allowing them to bring new innovations to the table.

Even as a company’s data architecture and AI applications grow more robust, it’s essential to make time to experiment, learn and (ultimately) innovate.

Image Credit: by Polina Zimmerman; Pexels; Thank you!

Atul Sharma

Atul founded Decision Intelligence company Peak in 2015 with Richard Potter and David Leitch. He has played a pivotal role in shaping Peak’s Decision Intelligence platform, which emerged as an early leader in a category that is expected to be the biggest technology movement for a generation. Peak’s platform is used by leading brands including Nike, Pepsico, KFC and Sika.
On a mission to change the way the world works, the tech scaleup has grown quickly over the last seven years and now numbers over 250 people globally. Regularly named a top place to work in the UK, this year Peak received the Best Companies 3-star accreditation, which recognizes extraordinary levels of employee engagement.
Prior to Peak, Atul spent over 20 years working in data architecture and data engineering. He has worked on designing and implementing data integration and data warehouse engagements for global companies such as Morrisons Plc, The Economist, HBOS, Admin Re (Part of Swiss Re) and Shell.

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