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Will Watching the World Cup Increase Office Productivity?

By: Neal Taparia

“Goaaallll!” I could clearly hear the celebration from someone’s headphones. World Cup fever has taken over workplaces around the world, and ours is no exception. The few employees who are passionate soccer fans have talked of nothing else, and even soccer newbies have begun to learn names like Messi and Neymar. This year’s global viewership is expected to dwarf previous years.

But this fever isn’t unique to the World Cup—in the United States, March Madness and the Super Bowl each pull over 100 million viewers. It’s pretty much inevitable that your devoted employees will find a way to watch the games they care about, and the productivity lost during that time is similarly unavoidable. So what should you do about it?

Crunching the Numbers

A lot of organizations have tried to predict just how much productivity is lost during these major sporting events when employees watch the games instead of doing work. In 2014, Challenger, Gray & Christian calculated that the March Madness tournament would cost more than $1.2 billion to American businesses.

During the 2010 World Cup, InsideView found that the U.S. lost $121 million in economic output, although that pales in comparison to the UK’s $7.3 billion, and Captivate Network had predicted that the 2012 Olympics would cost U.S. companies $1.38 billion.

For this year’s World Cup, the question wasn’t about how to minimize productivity lost, but how we could boost long-term engagement by taking advantage of the tournament.

Boosting Company Morale

Everyone at Imagine Easy has been drinking the World Cup Kool-Aid, and we encourage it. We make sure to play each of the World Cup games on a big screen in one of our conference rooms.

Ross, the marketing manager for our GetCourse content marketing product, has loved having the opportunity to follow the Cup, explaining, “The energy around the office is awesome; everyone feels more connected to their co-workers and the products we work together on. It’s made a big difference.”

Other employees echoed Ross’ sentiments. They suggested that the positive energy from watching the World Cup together carried over into their work. The effect was especially strong with our impressionable new hires and interns. When I asked an intern about her first week, she explained that she “hadn’t expected to work in a place where I could watch the World Cup, and where I’d immediately feel connected to the team.”

Creating Interdepartmental Communication

We see the World Cup as an opportunity not only to connect with your immediate team but also with the entire organization. For the first U.S. game against Ghana, we organized a company-wide social full of soccer trivia and Brazilian-themed food and drink. The half-hour break in work gave the whole company a jolt of energy and excitement. Many people from our different product groups ended up staying late to watch the dramatic ending of the game, socialize together, and finish up the day’s work.

During the Spain vs. Netherlands match, the GetCourse team was brainstorming new content marketing ideas while watching it in the conference room. John, a developer who sits on the other side of the office for our other product EasyBib, overheard the conversation. He immediately suggested that we create an online quiz like the EasyBib one that had gone viral. The GetCourse team loved the idea, and is now in the process of implementing it. That wouldn’t have happened without choosing to embrace the World Cup.

Sales and Marketing Opportunities

We’ve even seen the World Cup improve our sales efforts. Rahul, the product manager for GetCourse, was by no means a soccer fan prior to the World Cup. Now it’s safe to say he’s a convert. He’s been using the World Cup as an icebreaker and to build rapport with potential customers. Just the other day, I overheard him talking with a lead for 5 minutes about the offensive prowess of Uruguay’s Luis Suárez. A week ago Rahul couldn’t have named a single player. Luis Suárez has nothing to do with our product, but if having a lively conversation about him can help build relationships, that’s a big win!

Knowledge of the World Cup can also be channeled into innovative marketing. Our content marketing efforts are focused on generating useful and relevant content for our target audience. Recently, we were working on a fun piece about nine excuses to get out of work. We realized we could reframe it to “The 9 Best Excuses to Skip Work for the 2014 World Cup,” and sprinkled in our World Cup knowledge. It received 44% more traffic than our previous blog posts, which I attribute to its relevant and fun nature.


How Can You Increase Productivity Now with the World Cup?

As I mentioned, employees are going to watch games. There’s no way around it. So why not embrace that and try to avoid some of the real problems that could come out of it?

Here are our suggestions:

Giving time off for more results-oriented work

If an employee is so interested in a game or team that she just has to miss work, let her! She won’t be that productive during the game, so why not let her shift her schedule so that she’s really productive and invested when she is working? More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to show that you care.

Jake, who does sales for GetCourse, is a soccer fanatic. We’ve allowed him to duck out to watch games, but in return he’s been going to after work meetups and conferences. What we’ve found is that he’s been able to generate more leads from these events than our other channels. Not only are we doubling down on in-person networking now, but Jake’s efforts have already led to a notable increase in sales.

Stream games in a conference room

Some of our sales webinars were interrupted because internet bandwidth was being used to stream the game on a number of computers. When we streamed the game publicly for everyone in one place, our internet speed increased dramatically. Additionally, people watching can do work on their laptops while listening to and occasionally glancing up at the game. And people in the office who don’t want to watch the game can focus on their work without being distracted by their neighbors.

Hold an office pool

We decided to hold a pool for the entire office during the World Cup. My money, of course, is on Argentina (¡Viva La Albiceleste!). But we have employees with Brazilian and South Korean backgrounds; people who are in love with Cristiano Ronaldo and rooting for Portugal; people who picked teams based on the prettiest flags. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can bring your organization together and foster relationships.

If you can’t beat them, join them

I have to admit that I love the World Cup, and I like watching some games during work. But I also believe that investing in your team and taking care of their interests is an effective way to build a motivated team and engaged organization. This impacts everything, in the short term and the long term, including productivity, retention, and recruitment.

If your workplace yells, “Gooallll!” in unison, you’re doing something right!