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Published: Tuesday, 7/31/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Looking in on Olympics a workplace temptation

Bandwidth burden cited by local firms

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Why go to London when you can watch 3,000-plus hours of live Olympics coverage from the comfort of your own work cubicle?

NBC has expanded its streaming coverage to include every event at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Problem is, many of those events in London are live while most of America is at work.

That's not likely to stop people from logging on, however, a leading outplacement firm said.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago said it expects that thousands of U.S. workers may take a few minutes of their day to watch the games.

In the past, the outplacement firm has associated a productivity dollar loss with sporting events such as the NCAA basketball tournament. This year, for example, Challenger estimated that the March basketball tournament's first two days could amount to $175 million in lost productivity because of employees watching games online.

But for the London Summer Games, Challenger is looking at the problem in a different way, chief executive officer John Challenger said.

Instead of a lofty dollar projection, the firm said there's likely to be no true impact on productivity or effect on the overall economy. Why? Mr. Challenger argues that the measure of productivity has changed. All that should matter, he said, is that employees are producing quality work and meeting deadlines.

"There are a lot of companies and managers who are still caught up in the mind set and may look at it as lost productivity because someone's not working while they're at their desk, but if they get their work done it really doesn't matter if they're watching the Olympics or reading the Toledo Blade," he said.

And with many taking their work home at night and being plugged into their company email at all hours of the day, there has become much less distinction between personal time and work time, he said.

Still, Mr. Challenger said there could be a real problem with Internet bandwidth. Streaming video or audio can put a significant drag on a company's network.

Bandwidth loss is a big reason Medical Mutual of Ohio Inc. sent out a companywide memo ahead of the games reminding employees of the Internet use policy.

"We knew it was coming up and there could be an attraction to stay up with [the games] by downloading audio or video," Medical Mutual spokesman Mark Tooman said. "We didn't have an expectation it was going to be a great demand, but it was a reminder it does require a lot of bandwidth and it can slow access down to Web sites or data we need to do our business on a day-to-day basis."

Mr. Tooman added that Medical Mutual, which has about 500 employees in the Toledo area, doesn't expect to lose much worker productivity because of people checking in on the games.

Many companies already block video streaming sites from most of their work forces.

Matt Schroder, a spokesman for Owens-Corning, said employees who don't have a work requirement to use those types of sites don't have access to them.

"It's a bandwidth issue and a security issue," Mr. Schroder said. "So when things like the Olympics or March Madness or whatever is going on, those issues don't really come up here because those policies are already in place."

With prime-time coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics limited to taped delays, those wanting to follow the games in real time will have to do so mostly online.

So while employers may not want staff members planning their days around watching Michael Phelps swim, many understand the temptation to occasionally check on the results.

"We trust our employees will remain focused on their work during the Olympics, but also recognize their interest in the games and the fact we live in a time of real-time news delivery," Dana Holding Corp. spokesman Chuck Hartlage said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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