Most businesses offer their employees some kind of bonding time where they get away from the office and try to get to know one and another while doing something that is hopefully fun.

Having worked in a big corporation for over 15 years, I got to go on a team building exercise at least once a year. Some were fun, and some were definitely not. Unfortunately some managers chose to use the time allotted for team building to do something that is more along the lines of life coaching. One year my group had to do personality traits and the Myers Brigg test to determine if we were extraverts or introverts. This was no fun at all especially since all the other departments got to go hiking in the mountains. I am not saying the life coaching stuff is not important, just that it is not the same thing as bonding with your colleagues in a social setting.

In Calgary we are blessed with a multitude of opportunities both in nature and indoor activities. Depending on the amount of time you have you should be able to find something that everyone in your department can agree on. I found it is best to pick four or five activities and have everyone vote on their number one and number two choices. That way you will ensure that most people are enthusiastic about what you are doing and everyone will have more fun.

Here is a list of suggestions:

  • A hike in the mountains - Why not take advantage of something in our back yard that not very many cities can say they have. Of course choose an easy hike that everyone will be able to handle and always consider their safety. There are hundreds of well marked trails in Banff and Kananaskis Country and they are only about an hour's drive away
  • Go Karting - There are several indoor and outdoor tracks in the Calgary area that encourage groups and package deals.
  • Bowling - It is best to choose the 5 pin bowling alleys because some people find it difficult to handle the big balls in the 10 pin bowling alleys
  • Ice skating - This one is fairly tough to pull off because there always seems to be someone that has never skated
  • The Zoo - If the weather is nice, this can be a nice casual excursion where everyone leisurely strolls around together. The only downside is if your group is too large then it is hard to keep the group together.
  • Heritage Park - Has the same benefits and problems as going to the Zoo
  • Skiing - If it is winter, this is a good choice but you will have the same challenges as with skating where not everyone has skied before
  • Picnic - There are many great parks that have barbeque pits and picnic tables for the public to use. Fish creek park is great for this assuming it is summer of course
  • Laser tag/Paintball - My personal favorite is paintball although you might find some are too afraid of a little bit of pain and bruising. If this is the case you can always opt for laser tag which anyone can play
  • Scavenger hunts - You can have someone in your group organize it or go through a third party for this
  • Cooking Classes - This one may appeal to you if most of your co-workers are a bit more settled down and older. Together you can learn how to make delicious meals and eat what you created when you are done.

There are many other possibilities, but these are my personal favorites. Regardless of what your department decides to do, make sure you participate because it is really a great chance to get to know everyone you see every day but may not work closely with. I know there were many people in my department that I really had nothing to do with on a daily basis so we would just pass each other in the hall without even saying hi. After team building we would actually talk occasionally and everything felt more comfortable.

Here we are in the middle of March already and before you know it we will all be making a mad dash to the post office to mail our tax returns, or pressing the submit button if we file electronically.

I have always found that if you are organized you can save a lot of grief and stress. Nothing is worse than diving into bins and boxes of receipts at the last minute while trying to meet the deadline. This is expecially true if you own a small business. If you are an employee and  just have a T4 and maybe an RRSP slip you can just buy one of those programs at the grocery store and easily file your return. For a business the complexity goes up by a factor of about 10. Keeping track of all your business expenses while recording all your revenue requires at least the use of an Excel spreadsheet and preferably some business software like Sage 50 . The Sage software enables you to keep on top of payroll, expenses, and revenue although there is a fairly steep learning curve with the software.

If you are an individual that gets a T4 from a company, then I do recommend tackling the project yourself either with an old fashioned paper return or the $30 software you get at Superstore. If you have a small business, then I would recommend you hire an accountant to this work for you. You can track everything yourself with the spreadsheet or Sage 50 software but get the accountant to file the return for you. There are a lot of things that you could screw up, and unless you want to spend several days or weeks learning about dividends and capital cost allowances, an accountant will be worth the money. Especially if you were to make mistakes for several years and then have to go through an audit - then the mess would just be multiplied.

I spoke to Daniela at Padgett Business Services Calgary and she recommended paying for all of your business expenses on a company credit card and keeping all those receipts. This way there will be no personal items on the credit card and it will be easy to categorize the business expenses for the tax return. She also reiterated that being organized can save you money as well because if you come to her once a year and throw a pile of receipts on her desk, it will cost you a lot more than if you have everything neatly laid out for her. The alternative is of course that you see her regularly and she keeps everything in order on a monthly basis. You can find all kinds of great accounting information at padgettcalgary.com

They also have an Edmonton accountant at www.edmontonpadgett.com

It is hard to believe we are already into the third week of February and the winter Olympics are almost over. What a great hockey game that was this morning between the Canadian and American women's hockey teams. I thought we were done and would have to settle for the silver, but I kept a little bit of faith and continued watching until Canada scored with about 3 minutes left in the 3rd period. Anyway if you missed it, we tied it up with about a minute or so to go and then went on to win in overtime - great game.

Anyway, I was going to talk about Calgary real estate so here goes. We're in a seller's market with very low levels of inventory. As of today, February 20th, there are only 1015 condos on the market which includes all apartment style condos and townhouses. As for single family homes which includes detached houses and duplexes, there are 1839 homes for sale. So, if you have a good home to sell and price it reasonably, it will sell quickly and possibly with multiple offers. Prices have now recovered or even exceeded the record highs we saw in the last boom in 2006 and 2007.

I spoke to Carmen Paradis of RE/MAX real estate central about some strategies you can use to buy a home in this market. She said the most important thing is to have your financing ready to go and know exactly what you want in a home. You have to be ready to pounce before someone else makes an offer. It is the biggest purchase you will likely ever make but if you find a place that you love, do not wait a few days to think about it. Don't wait until the weekend to go see the new listings, that is when everyone else will be out as well and those people will be making offers. Paradis says go during the week and make an offer as soon as you find your dream home. Chances are that if you love the house, so will a lot of other people and it will likely be gone by the time you pull the trigger on the weekend.

Don't expect things to change any time soon as mortgage rates are still very low, and people are still moving to Calgary in droves. Rental vacancies are very low and monthly rents are very high because of the insatiable demand. As long as the oil industry continues to do well, the real estate market will be active. Prices are increasing, but don't expect huge price increases because people have long memories and remember what happened after the last boom and during the recession. House prices declined significantly and have only recently recovered to their highest levels.

So it is full steam ahead for Calgary's property market for the foreseeable future.