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How to Handle March Madness: It's a Big Deal

Starting tomorrow, your company might become part of an annual epidemic that costs the U.S. economy over $1 billion an hour. March Madness, the NCAA postseason basketball tournament, is a national phenomenon, and it has been giving employers headaches for years. Each year, employees gather around their electronics every March to stream games and check scores to keep up with their bracket, and this time away from work leads to unbelievable amounts of lost productive hours. 2016’s total economic impact was projected to even top the $4 billion total within the first week alone (To view the math and stats behind this, you can click here for findings from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, whom perennially compile a report).

March Madness cannot be ignored if you’re an employer.

First, let’s take a look at what you need to be aware of when it comes to March Madness, and then we’ll explore options on what you should do for your company. These options aren’t about whether or not you should create an office bracket pool (gambling laws aside)…it’s about something much more pressing: what do you do during the actual times of the games? You see, it’s not just about workers stepping away from regular tasks and being less productive, it’s also about the stress that all this video streaming will put on your IT.

Times You Need To Watch: March Madness starts on March 16th this year, and this will be the single date that causes the most stress on your infrastructure. In terms of realistic expectations, this should be the primary day that you are concerned with. Beyond this day, you only need to truly be concerned with game times of the local favorite teams. If you concern yourself with these two details, then you can reasonably label all other tournament activities during work hours as excessive, and you don’t need to concern yourself with them. For example, any worker that completely checks out frequently during the entire month-long schedule of the tournament likely isn’t a very dedicated employee and can be dealt with accordingly.

Now, what do you do with these times? What do you do on March 16th, and then when your local team is squaring off in a “win-or-go-home” game that defines their season? You have two options: shut it down or embrace it.

Option 0 – Laissez-Faire: The easiest option, which we’ll address first, is to simply acknowledge that your employees who want to watch the games at these times will do so, and just let them stream it on their individual devices. Make these two timeframes open for streaming, and make it open season for them. This option is easy, and requires no forethought on your part, but is not without flaws. We don’t recommend simply blocking sites as there are way too many illegitimate streaming sites to track. You won’t be able to block them all, and the ones that you don’t block will be far more harmful to IT than

Option 1 – Shut It Down: There are multiple reasons for why you may want to go this route, and they all primarily center on the notion that there are deadlines and customer needs that simply cannot be moved, and your operations just cannot take the hit. This is reasonable, and it’s your prerogative as an employer. For those of you who are looking to prohibit activities and completely shut down employee access, you need to completely remove the temptation that individuals might have to want to check scores. Get them away from their computers! Schedule important meetings during these times, as an example. It is possible that certain employees may be distracted and preoccupied during such meetings, but your truly valued and invested employees will absolutely buy in to the meeting if it’s important enough, and you can always explain that the work takes precedence. Your best employees will understand.

Option 2 – Completely Embrace It: Provide an employee appreciation event surrounding the tournament. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. If you have a budget for these types of activities, there is no better day of the year to spend it on than the first Thursday of the tournament. You will easily get the best ROI and value on your dollar. Pick a conference room to gather everyone (or let them come and go) and stream the games on a big screen. Or, why not find a restaurant or other establishment that will host you? Tip: have the employees bring their laptops/tablets with them to the room so that they can still monitor any activity during game time. Chances are, though, that roughly half of your clientele is likely checked-out watching the games, as well, and won’t send you anything. Still, it’s a nice, friendly reminder to your team that the customer always comes first, but still keeps everyone in a very positive, very grateful mindset. If you’re booking elsewhere, make sure that they have Wi-Fi capability so everyone can log in. Obviously, it’s a public network so there may be security issues, but the establishment won’t mind because they expect this strain on their network at these times…and it’s worth it for them because of the revenue they’re bringing in. Note: if employees don’t respond positively and gratefully, and rather take it for granted, than you may want to shut this down.

Option 2B – Bring Your Customers In, Too: Are you considering doing an employee appreciation event? Why not go all out and expand it into a customer appreciation event? Invite clients out to your office or to your reserved space to join in on the festivities. Make it a networking/appreciation event for them. Chances are, people who like the games (and those who don’t) will consider attending if you’re giving your beloved customers a chance to talk with you (about business or not) in a more relaxed setting. Invest in those relationships!

Tip: Even if you’re not doing an event yourself…Do you believe that your customer is going to be heavily invested into a game at a certain time? Maybe hold off on correspondence to them during that time! It’s small, but they may appreciate it.

Matthew Bare - Wednesday, March 16, 2016