It’s NCAA Tournament time again, which means nothing to 90% of the civilized world. But here in the US it means three weeks of drama, gambling, and well-intentioned foolishness.  It’s also a good time to examine the role of creatively “wasting” time with social activities at work.

First, we’ll start with the supposedly bad news. According to lots of studies done every year human beings waste $1.7 Billion in lost productivity during March Madness. Some have even suggested that remote work will make this even more egregious. Oh the humanity! This could be the end of civilization as we know it!

Time doesn’t always equal money

Like the folks who wrote the article we just linked to, consultants break down how much people make per hour, figure out many hours or minutes they spend on their brackets and trying to catch a few minutes of the games, and bemoan the fact that every minute spent praying some 18-year-old makes that free throw is another minute of reports not being completed.

While there are certainly people who spend the time they’re being paid for doing non-productive activities, most offices are open, email still flies, customers are being served, and the sky remains above our heads. Here’s why this study, and others like it, is misleading.

Reality check: Nobody is working every second

It’s not as if without basketball, everyone would be focused on work every minute of the workday. There is no quantifiable difference between taking ten minutes to check the status of your shattered tournament bracket, doing some online shopping or telling the world your Wordle score. It just means around this time of year more people are wasting their time in the same way. That leads to the next point…

Social interactions are good for morale

This is a chance for people to bond and, you know, have fun. In many workplaces, the NCAA Tournament is a chance to share experiences, bust chops about your favorite schools, cheer underdogs, and tease each other good-naturedly. Remember fun?  Workplaces that allow people to engage in morale-building activities generally have more loyal employees.

Remote teams can be social, too

When everyone was in the office, this time of year often led to pizza parties, “wear your college sweatshirt” days, and brackets posted on the wall for everyone to enjoy (or commiserate over). The “Big Dance” is a perfect example of a group experience that doesn’t depend on place. Remote teammates can participate as much as those in the office. It really doesn’t matter what time zone you’re in. You can enjoy watching the game and trying to win your office pool just as easily from home. The goal shouldn’t be to kill these kinds of shared activities; it’s finding non-sports related (and if you’re international, non US-Centric) activities that accomplish the same thing.

Redefining “wasted” time

“Wasting time,” is not a privilege reserved for people who work away from the office. We all know that being in a central location is no guarantee time isn’t being wasted. Showing up and leaving on time does not ensure that you spend all the time in between slaving away.

Reports like this are the relics of an early 20th century world of time management studies and efficiency reports. Most office work (or knowledge work as it’s come to be known) is not time or location dependent. People are demanding more flexibility in their schedules, and it really doesn’t matter if they choose to spend some of their time cheering on their alma mater or walking the dog.

Let people have their fun. If the way they manage their time impacts the business over time, it’s a coaching issue. Otherwise shut up and pass the corn chips.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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