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March Madness: 4 tips for Houston businesses to embrace 'The Big Dance'

This major sporting event doesn't just have to disrupt your team. Photo via Getty Images

For sports enthusiasts, one of the most popular competitions that attracts tens of millions of viewers is here – March Madness, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. As fans gear up for three weeks of action, employers are also excited, but for very different reasons.

March Madness can be a distraction in the workplace that hinders productivity. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., lost productivity during the tournament can cost employers over $13 billion, with nearly 50 percent of workers spending more than six hours of work time on March Madness activities. With an increase in hybrid/remote workers, the stage is set for more employees to view games during the workday, leading to higher levels of productivity losses.

Although these numbers are staggering, savvy employers can leverage March Madness to promote team building and boost employee engagement, which can have a positive impact on long-term success. Below are four tips for business leaders to consider as they embrace March Madness.

Embrace the reality

Employers should accept the reality that employees will participate in March Madness activities regardless of company policies. With access to the tournament through streaming services, updates on websites, social media discussions, bracket activities and more autonomy in remote situations, it is impossible for employers to monitor.

Companies that embrace the madness will experience less frustration for management and greater appreciation from workers. More importantly, it demonstrates a human side when companies incorporate current events into daily interactions that support the interests of employees, along with business needs.

Understand the reality

While the tournament is a short-term event, the way employers handle it can have long-term benefits. As countless businesses look for ways to extend the culture to remote workers, leaders can rally around this event to facilitate more interactions and develop stronger bonds, further connecting employees to the company.

With proper management, levels of employee engagement, morale, performance and retention increase, which can have a dramatic effect on future initiatives and the bottom line. When leaders extend trust and enable employees the flexibility to enjoy the tournament in some manner, they are investing in the future.

Set guidelines

Business leaders should be proactive about March Madness by recognizing employees’ excitement and setting guidelines. A best practice is to distribute an email about the tournament and expectations surrounding activities, along with a reminder that sports gambling is illegal in the workplace.

For those coming into the office, enable televisions to display games so employees can get quick updates or watch games during breaks/lunch hours. When employees understand expectations, they are better able to manage their responsibilities and appropriately share in the festivities, leading to continued performance and improved morale.

Nurture the culture

March Madness is an ideal way to incorporate relevant activities that nurture the culture and involve remote employees. Encourage employees to wear jerseys of their favorite teams on game days, take pictures and post them on the intranet/social media. Hold a contest for the best-decorated workspace that includes home offices.

Hosting virtual events like bracket-picking breaks, game-watching gatherings and hoops happy hours offer groups a chance to connect. Awarding gifts cards to employees who pick winning brackets for the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four promotes friendly competition. A PTO raffle for picking The Big Dance national champion is a bonus. When employees are part of a fun environment, it increases camaraderie and team building that nurtures the culture.

As the hype around March Madness builds and people scurry to finalize their brackets, employers should join in on the excitement and seize the opportunity to bring remote teams closer to the fold, promote the culture and position the company for continued success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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