March Madness (and the Olympics and Fantasy Football and …) Are Costing Your Company

Every year the articles pop up concerning the loss of productivity and cost associated with major events that occur during the average workday.   The widespread availability of internet bandwidth at work, the growing volume of streaming media topics and feeds, and the latest faster-better-cheaper technology advances all take the blame when calculating the costs associated with these “distractions.”  This article in the San Diego Union Tribune is one such example:

Some dazzling stats from Challenger, Gray and Christmas put a very visible price tag on the effects of these distractions. – $134M over just the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Source: Wikimedia CommonsOne could argue that other scheduled events, such as Presidential inaugurations, or unscheduled events like breaking news or disaster coverage – all have the same effect on productivity and costs.  Where the list of productivity distractions starts and stops is subject to interpretation.

In a prior company, we spent much of our product development energy coming up with ways to block access to various internet-based distractions, by giving the Sysadmin or HR folks various ways to block/throttle things like Fantasy Football, ESPN streaming sports updates, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie show, etc.   The list became quite long, and the creative engineering juices had to flow as the list, and the number of various technologies for delivering up this content, grew over time.

Of course the outcome was inevitable.  The problem moved.  You shine a light on internet access over the company-provided resources, with stricter acceptable use policies and blocking/throttling methods – employees adapted and moved to using their cellular phones.  Company-provided or company-funded cell phone you say?  Move to your tablet.   One might even conclude that it just forced folks to sneak out or take longer lunches at the local sports bar in order to get a glimpse of the latest game on the big screen – so what did that productivity-enhancing control get you?

The underlying technology gains come at a price, of course.  Better internet access, higher bandwidth, smartphones, tablets, and 4G networks – all work wonders for business needs, but they also serve up non-business content.   How far do you go in fighting these potential timewasters?

Three observations come to mind:

Calculate the cost/benefit ratio:   For every minute of “time wasting” distractions these technologies serve up during normal business hours – they also serve up valuable, no-extra-cost, employee access and productivity in our “always-on” world.  Calculate your off-time-hours spent:  calling, emailing, IMing, and texting with business associates or clients during the early morning or late evening hours;  reviewing emails, proposals, design documents, or contracts before bed;  surfing the net for solutions to your work-problem-du-jour from the comfort of your family room sofa.  Now multiply that by the number of folks in your organization who you know do the same – and check your organization’s ROI.

Embrace the technology:   Make sure your employees have access to faster-better-cheaper technology.  We all know that few folks want to work for a company that keeps recycling 5-year-old laptops to new employees.   Find ways to incorporate the latest mobile technologies into your infrastructure, and make them part of the solution rather than the problem.  Invest a reasonable sum of your CAPEX/OPEX in periodic technology upgrades that your employees touch/use (a portion of that funding can go into low-cost monitoring/controls that can be dialed in as required.)   New technology may allow them to enhance their resume’s (who doesn’t want that?), but it’s far more likely it will keep them happier doing more of what they are already doing for you.  Plus – if you don’t do it, some other firm likely will.

Embrace your employees:   Put the flat screens up in the break areas, rather than forcing everyone to suck up bandwidth in their cube or sneak a peek at their smartphone.  Encourage a little group “downtime” in the break area when an event interrupts the business day (within reason, of course).  Those who don’t care to participate – will likely stay in front of their laptop.  Those who do – might bond a bit, have a great break, and then get back to work as usual.  (Well, they may be depressed if their team loses, but that’s out of your hands in any scenario!)

Bottom line – problems tend to move when you apply focus on them, and technology problems move at internet speed (to use the over-used phrase.)   So be flexible and pick your battles carefully.


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Posted in Information Technology, Leadership, Productivity
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