High-stakes hoops: 4 easy steps for managing March Madness at work

Marc Thaler

Can the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team actually win every game on its schedule and celebrate the first undefeated national champion since 1976?

You don’t have to know anything about the 2015 NCAA Tournament – or even care about it – to find Kentucky’s quest compelling. And that’s why US-based IT pros may find these next few weeks more challenging than previous experiences with “March Madness.”

marchmadnessProductivity is known to drop come tourney time, with a barrage of games live-streamed during working hours. Kentucky’s bid for a 40-0 campaign adds to the drama – and the hefty price tag associated with workers’ focus on basketball rather than business.

It’s clear what’s at stake for the top-seeded, 34-0 Wildcats: They are six wins from history, with no margin for error. One upset loss abruptly ends everything.

Businesses, too, stand to lose – to the tune of $1.9 billion. That’s the estimated cost of lost productivity, according to Chicago’s Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a firm known for calculating the tournament’s impact on downtime and dollars.   

“That figure may be on the conservative side, considering this year could garner a lot more interest from even casual basketball fans eager to see if Kentucky can continue its undefeated season through the tournament,” CEO John Challenger says via press release on the firm’s website.

The first games tip off Tuesday night. But the day-long action that defines the three-week, 68-team tournament begins Thursday in the noon (ET) hour.

Before every machine and device in your office is broadcasting wall-to-wall basketball, and possibly monopolizing bandwidth, do yourself a favor. Follow these four steps. You may find they prevent the IT aspect of March Madness from becoming maddening:

Step 1: Gauge the company culture

Do the decision-makers in your company invite March Madness into the workplace? Do they enforce a “no hoops here” policy? Maybe there’s a middle ground between unfettered streaming and none at all?

You need to know.

Step 2: Establish boundaries

Yes, the boss can demand IT block access to all video-streaming sites. But there’s a price to pay: likely dealing with disgruntled workers.

One compromise is establishing specific viewing windows for employees to use their devices. Review the day’s slate of games. Maybe there’s one that most workers want to monitor closely. (Kentucky’s first game is Thursday at 9:40pm ET, so IT pros can exhale.)

Another work-around is introducing a common viewing area, perhaps in a conference room. Streaming games from one machine uses a fraction of the bandwidth consumed by multiple devices accessing the same content. Of course, you can turn the TV on, making the bandwidth issue a moot point – and avoiding the security risks associated with streaming from questionable sites.

Step 3: Plan business needs accordingly

By establishing viewing windows, business tasks can be throttled back or rescheduled for other times of the workday. The company certainly comes first. But if it’s possible, bump up management’s regular video conference, or save the giant file download until after hours.

Be like the policy you create: flexible.

Step 4: Enforce with technology

Remember: IT is meant to support the business. Therefore, the technology your company uses can (and should) be adjusted to match management’s marching orders.

According to this 2014 article on Smithsonian.com, more than 60 million Americans “fill out a bracket each year.” Correctly picking the winner of every game has odds of “one in 9.2 quintillion.”

In other words, March Madness is known for brackets busting. But you don’t want a busted network – or a broken budget.

If you want any more useful suggestions, our friends over in Reddit have some pointers for you to mull over… click here to read what they had to say