It’s that time of year again. The printers and copy machines are busy with people publishing brackets. The help desk lines are all tied up because everyone is discussing last night’s game. The coffee machines and water fountains have huddles around them. And the CIO has to remember that when people are talking about “nothing but net,” they don’t mean the office intranet.

Yes, it’s March Madness. How are you and the company going to survive?

If you’re one of the people for whom NCAA bracketology is simply an interesting exercise in combinatorics with 1 in 7.4 billion odds, this fascination with a game played by freakishly tall people from colleges you’ve never heard of may bemuse you. Nonetheless, it’s something you may find yourself needing to deal with.

According to one study from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 50 million Americans will participate in office March Madness pools. In addition, during just the first week of the tournament alone, companies were on track to lose a $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour. Moreover, one of every three workers will spend one to three hours watching games during work hours.

Aside from the hit to office productivity, there’s also the potential hit to your office networks. In 2013, for example, there were 49 million live video streams of NCAA Tournament games, and use of NCAA March Madness Live, which enables people to watch tournament games live on the Internet, rose 168 percent from 2012, reports Huffington Post. During the first two weeks of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, streamed video views more than tripled from 2012 to 14 million hours. Even if employees are streaming it on their smartphone or tablet rather than their desktop computer, they might still be using the office Wi-Fi to do it.

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that 65 percent of IT professionals said they took some sort of action to block, throttle, or ban streaming of non-work content this time of year. Others threw in the towel; 45 percent said they kept users from streaming games on the office network by providing an alternate location to watch games, such as by providing a television in the conference room. The survey, conducted by IT staffing firm Modis, also reported that nearly half of the CIOs who don’t throttle content said it had slowed down the network, while 43 percent said it had shut down the network altogether.

Be aware, incidentally, that the NCAA.com website has a “boss button” that lets the employee quickly display a Google search when someone walks by. It looks like this:

NCAA 2016 "boss button"

(There are also similar boss buttons for “in class,” which displays American History notes, and “at work,” which shows a PowerPoint presentation.)

And then there’s the office pool issue. Are you going to go to jail if you allow your office to participate in what’s estimated to be a $3 billion industry? Chances are, no, according to Lawyers.com. While NCAA pools are technically illegal in most states, typically the law goes unenforced, writes Aaron Kase. In fact, several states such as Montana, Connecticut, and Vermont have made changes to allow legal gambling on small office pools, he writes. However, make sure you aren’t violating any company rules with your office pool, he warns.

The good news? Surveys also indicate that office bonding over March Madness can be a morale booster. One in five people in a recent survey by Office Team, a staffing company,  said they believed that activities tied to the college basketball playoffs improved employee morale at least somewhat. That’s in comparison with the 4 percent of respondents who viewed them negatively. The majority (75 percent) said they believed that March Madness events had no effect on either morale or productivity, the survey continued. (To be fair, executives who were asked the same questions in a 2010 survey were more divided, with 41 percent saying they thought college basketball playoff celebrations improved morale, while 22 percent saying they hurt employee output, the company said.)

Office Team went on to offer several suggestions on how best to manage basketball fever in the office, including granting employees some slack, allowing them to dress up in their favorite teams’ uniforms, and making sure they know the rules ahead of time.

Most important of all? Set a good example yourself. If you’ve got the game streaming on your own system, you can’t exactly complain if other employees do the same

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