It’s that time of year, and the usual symptoms run amok across the office. Employee absences are up. Productivity is down. Projects fall behind schedule, etc…Sounds like the flu in your office as the ground begins to thaw. This may be a symptom of the coming spring, but it is not the flu. I am talking about March Madness.

March Madness refers to that time of year when employees are distracted from the task at hand by the annual NCAA college basketball tournament. For the uninformed, next to the Super Bowl, it is considered the biggest sporting event of the year.In the past, it was not a big deal to office productivity. People filled out paper brackets, and occasionally checked scores online. The advent of streaming media has changed that. Office pools have moved online and people can now watch early games live online, monitor play by play action, and login to sites to check their bracket scores. Based on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I am already seeing comments from folks “planning” to be sick later this week. Another interesting factoid is that more vasectomy surgeries are scheduled for the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament than any other day of the year. Men want to be stuck on the couch to watch basketball.

One of the most noticeable symptoms that your office is infected with a March Madness virus is internet slowdown. A midsize office of 15 people all watching games online will bring the fastest internet connection to a screaming halt. People complain “the internet is slow” and overall productivity grinds to a halt.On Thursday and Friday when the games are online is when our helpdesk gets more calls about slow internet than any other time of year.

So how do you solve this without killing the fun? The solution is simple and easy, M.B.W.A, a.k.a.“Management By Walking Around”. Make a point every day to casually walk around the office a few times to see what people are working on. Ask them about their projects and issues. Find out where their roadblocks are and how you can help break down their barriers. Employees that know the boss is walking around the office are less likely to let their mind drift or keep a live game streaming in the background. If a casual check in throughout the day does not solve the problem, the next step is to monitor web sites. Your IT service provider should be able to help you identify the most frequently accessed websites.

If the top 3 include media and sports sites, then you still have a problem and should consider blocking those sites. If your top sites are normal business usage, then you have a different problem and you should work with your IT service provider to troubleshoot and resolve as soon as possible.

The NCAA tournament is a fun time of year for everyone. Everyone from soccer moms to fantasy stat geeks love this tournament. Many offices even sponsor their own pools for office morale, which is a great idea. The problem comes when employees are spending office time and resources for personal use. Those productivity hits can cost an organization thousands of dollars in downtime over three weeks. Enjoy the madness without it crushing your business.