by Thomas Wailgum

The Madness Starts Today: Don’t Fight It

Mar 20, 20084 mins
IT Leadership

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off today. And just as we all will be glued to the drama that will unfold among the 64 teams vying to be called National Champion, it’s important for companies to remember that there also will be a lot of drama unfolding among the millions of cube dwellers vying to be called Office Pool Winner.

Within the last several years, the NCAA and CBS Sports have famously made it so easy and cool to follow all of the action during the annual hoops competition, which include the 32 games that occur mostly during office hours on Thursday and Friday.

Fans can watch live broadcasts of the CBS telecasts through the March Madness On-Demand site and, of course, get real-time scoring updates and play-by-play game information without ever having to refresh their PCs or leave their desks. (To see CIO‘s list of nine technology innovations that have made sports so much better for fans, which includes all the March Madness wizardry, go here.)

The most notorious of these new innovations (depending on your point of view, I suppose) is the “Boss Button.”

If, say, a programmer who’s supposed to be fixing software bugs is instead watching a game online and he hears his manager approaching, the programmer can hit the “Boss Button” and up will pop an Excel spreadsheet that will display a screen filled with “legitimate” work. (It should be noted that the fake spreadsheet is filled with consumption metrics on beef jerky, soda, chips and the like. Not exactly real work for those employed outside the snack-foods industry.)

Now if you believe the annual “lost productivity” research from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, then this year March Madness’s workplace distractions could cost employers up to $1.7 billion in “wasted work time over the 16 business days of the tournament,” announced the placement firm this year.

I (and many others) don’t buy the severity of the decline in productivity. The number-one reason for that is because today’s workers are able to multitask in ways unfathomable to the older generation of bosses.

Employees today work between two or three monitors and numerous corporate and consumer applications, effortlessly moving among many dissimilar files and documents, e-mails and instant messages, and RSS feeds and YouTube videos. All the while listening to their favorite tunes on their MP3 players.

Distraction, to them, isn’t all that digital noise. It’s somebody interrupting them by actually trying to have a conversation with them. (Which is for another column.)

Challenger, however, doesn’t buy it. “Those who insist there will be no impact are kidding themselves,” he stated in the announcement.

Whether you agree with Challenger’s data or not, he does offer some suggestions as to how to use the March Madness event to bolster team-building and morale. And I think that’s pretty smart. Because employers just can’t fight the power of the madness anymore.

“The key for companies is finding a way to maximize the positive aspects of March Madness so that they outweigh the negatives,” Challenger notes.

In that spirit, Challenger offers these seven March Madness morale boosters:

1. Pick 64 MVPs. Symbolizing the 64 teams initially in the tournament, companies could bestow Most Valuable Player honors on exceptional workers chosen ahead of time by supervisors. For companies with fewer than 64 employees, MVPs could be designated for the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, or Final Four.

2. Team sweatshirt day. Relax the dress code (for employees not meeting with customers) for the first Friday of the tournament so that fans can wear the sweatshirt of their favorite college team (even if the team did not qualify for this year’s tourney).

3. Offer anti-tourney prizes. Give the non-basketball fanatics in the office a chance to win. Those who are not interested in the tournament can enter their names in a special raffle drawing for an afternoon off or a certificate for a restaurant.

4. Offer flexible schedules. On the four days when tournament games are played during work hours, allow workers the opportunity to arrive early so they can work a full shift and still leave in time to see the games.

5. Organize a company pool. Employees can enter free of charge and the winner is given a gift certificate to a restaurant or store.

6. Keep a bracket posted. For employers without company-wide Internet access, keep a large, updated tournament bracket in a common area so workers can check their teams’ progress.

7. TVs are a good thing. Keep television in break room tuned to coverage.