New York (MainStreet) — Woe betide a nation of NCAA brackets. Even the early tournament has not been kind.

After a series of early upsets turned the annual sub-sport of NCAA bracketing upside down, basketball fans have been watching their hopes for the legendary perfect season fall apart. In fact, Alabama-Birmingham took a wrecking ball to brackets across the nation when it defeated third-seed Iowa State.

That doesn’t mean we’re going to start paying any less attention though. March Madness got its name for a reason, and a nation of avid sports fans will keep right on following the NCAA tournament until the last alley has ooped and the last pom pommed.

Whether or not, it turns out, we’re supposed to be at work.

Conference call provider InterCall decided to study just how much office time workers spend following their brackets. Everybody knows that employees start slacking off at least a little this time of year, said Dennis Collins, director of marketing, conferencing and collaboration at InterCall. His company got curious whether they could figure out just how much.

InterCall ran a poll to ask workers questions like: “Would they consider changing the time of a meeting or rescheduling a standing conference call because it interfered with the game?" "Do they stream games at work?" "Does the company let them embrace the opportunity as opposed to fight it?”

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone people do spend time watching [the tournament]," Collins said.

On the surface the biggest surprise is the number of people who would bump entire conference calls to watch the game. A whopping 43% of workers surveyed said they would “likely reschedule a recurring conference call to catch the game.”

Unfortunately for all those NCAA fans out there hoping to have their eight way session with the home office bumped for the Kansas game, this statistic is... aspirational. Lots of workers might be happy to blow off a routine nuisance like weekly check-ins for the excitement of a bracket-saving game. Not so many of them can actually do so.

“One of the challenges I see [in the 43% number] is how many people have the authority to do that,” Collins said. “If you think about it, most conference calls by default have five to ten people on it. Well, there’s one host and four to nine attendees, and the attendees don’t really have the clout to change it.”

In fact, from this perspective, it’s surprising that the number isn’t a lot higher. The real shock here isn’t that nearly half of all workers would put off a routine call for March Madness, it’s that 57% of all workers say they wouldn’t.

A little more surprising is the finding that comfortably more than half of us admit to streaming basketball games at work (many of us do so, in fact, during those conference calls we’d love to blow off). Although many workplaces embrace the spirit of the season and let employees gather together to watch games during the day, for some reason others consider “basketball” outside of an office’s core job duties.

People working under these Dickensian conditions have to get creative about where they watch the game. And boy, do they ever… According to InterCall’s results, streaming basketball in the men’s room is actually somewhat unoriginal. Workers admit to sneaking off to supply closets, boiler rooms, strip clubs, a Sears and even the local Chuck-E-Cheese’s to catch a few minutes of action on the job.

We can all admire that guy trying fit in at an eight year old’s birthday party, watching Duke play Robert Morris next to a giant foam mouse. He made “strip club” seem normal.

The alternatives didn’t surprise Collins, though, who’s seen this kind of thing before. “That list actually pretty much matched the list we had of [places people go to use] mobile devices,” he said. “The only thing I’ve yet to see is church. I haven’t heard anybody say they went to a confessional. Yet.”

The truth is, it’s not surprising that people watch their games at work. Multitasking is one of the hallmarks of the modern workplace. We’re all absolutely convinced that we can keep the left eye on a laptop and the right eye on a binder, doing both things effectively at the same time. Many offices practically demand that employees excel at this.

Of course, as increasing numbers of experts tell us, this is less “multitasking” than “semi-tasking.” Doing two things at once, unsurprisingly, leads to doing both tasks poorly. Still, a generation that has come of professional age sorting emails while listening in on a conference call? It’s no wonder that every March that inbox turns into ESPN streaming.

“When you look at it, this behavior isn’t all that distracting,” Collins said. “All it means is that instead of checking email they’re getting the game. It just tends to replace whatever distractions they’re already using.”


--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.