Your dreams of a perfect March Madness bracket may have gone bust, but the friendly competition among coworkers in office pools is likely hitting new heights as the tournament approaches the final stretch. CIOs and IT managers might be concerned about all the social media activity and online viewing taking place over these 19 days of college hoops mania, but the subsequent rise in employee engagement should not be overlooked. "While March Madness distractions may not alter the nation's quarterly GDP numbers, you can be assured that department managers and network administrators notice the effect on work output and company-wide Internet speeds." -- John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas Prior to the first tip-off, the NCAA projected 7.7 million social media comments will be made about the tournament during telecasts. The NCAA also reports at least 1.5 billion online conversations will occur about its corporate partners throughout the tournament. Out of the 189 million viewers expected to watch games on television, online or mobile, 149 million people are expected to watch the tournament on TV at home.[Related: 3 Must-Have Android\/iOS Apps for Following March Madness]Every year research firms publish fresh data about the money lost due to a dip in productivity during March Madness. With an estimated 50 million people participating in office pools this year, one firm calculates at least $1.2 billion was already lost for every unproductive work hour during the first week of action.March Madness: Hazardous to Business or Just a Game?"There are distractions every day at the office, but the first week of the annual men's college basketball tournament is particularly hazardous to workplace productivity. While March Madness distractions may not alter the nation's quarterly GDP numbers, you can be assured that department managers and network administrators notice the effect on work output and company-wide Internet speeds," John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, writes in the firm's latest report. "It's going to happen either way so you might as well get some cultural bang for your buck," -- David Fagiano, COO,Dale Carnegie Training While it may be hard to overlook those statistics, employers can be reassured that there are positive benefits of March Madness as well. These short-term losses in productivity and revenue can easily be parlayed into long-term gains for companies that appreciate the power of a more engaged and enriched workforce."March Madness can be a fun event. People should have fun at work and be fun at work, but being happy doesn't necessarily mean you're engaged," says David Fagiano, COO of Dale Carnegie Training. "Engagement is driven on an emotional level so you need to win the hearts and the minds of people. When you win the minds of people you get commitment, but when you win the hearts of people you get belief."That can quickly translate into an even greater belief in the company's direction and long-term strategy, he adds. "People are focused on driving objectives that they believe in," says Fagiano.Of course, it's not all about happy feelings and good times. Companies with engaged employees outperform other companies by an average of 200 percent and enjoy net revenue gains as high as 50 percent, he says."I think you have to start with the realization that you're not going to prevent people from sneaking a peak at 2 o'clock tomorrow or whenever," says Fagiano. "I think it's accepting reality and building camaraderie, which will build a sense of engagement."Building a sense of teamwork through company brackets during March Madness is a critical opportunity, Fagiano adds. "Control it, use it, rather than being afraid that it's just going to run rampant."His message to IT managers and CIOs is simple: March Madness could impact as much as half of the workforce, but it's a short window of time that can be capitalized for more long-term benefits. Camaraderie Is Worth a Little Lost ProductivitySnappyTV CEO Mike Folgner says his company's pool of brackets is the chatter of the office on Monday mornings. "For me it's the camaraderie," he says. "Giving each other a hard time is well worth any distraction or productivity that might result out of it."Trying to limit distraction during events like March Madness is a lost cause. "It's going to happen either way so you might as well get some cultural bang for your buck," says Folgner.SnappyTV is tracking the volume of social activity around each game or moment and sharing that data with its customers. The company is also powering many of the social features in Turner Sports' official NCAA March Madness Live app, showing users the volume of tweets throughout the course of a game and identifying spike in activity around key plays.Twitter is also promoting social activity around the tournament with a page listing the official handles for teams in the hunt and visual map of the country that shows the top states in which users are mentioning the hashtag #MarchMadness.You can also follow the NCAA's March Madness account @MarchMadness and get upset alerts, channel change notices and clips from the tournament's official broadcast partners @MarchMadnessTV.Matt Kapko covers social media for CIO.com. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattkapko. Email him at email@example.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.