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Enough with 'boss buttons,' let them watch basketball in the office

The March Madness of college basketball is on. So why is everyone sneaking around and pretending they're not tuning in on the Internet?

Friday morning, I walked past a colleague's desk and--I swear--saw a basketball game on her computer screen. When I got closer, however, all I could see were a bunch of very official-looking bars and charts.


She was working hard. Real hard. Then she laughed, hit a key, and flipped back to the basketball game in a clear indication that I'm either a boss people can be honest with or a boss who doesn't exactly strike fear into the rank and file. Or both.

The "boss button" and silly office decorum strike again. For those of you who for some reason don't know what a boss button is, it's pretty simple: It helps you look at stuff on your PC at work that you're not supposed to be looking at. Hit a key, and the screen instantly flips to something that vaguely looks like something you should be looking at in the office. Poll

Are you secretly watching the NCAA basketball tournament at your desk?

Of course, that's what the "boss button" is for.
No, don't care.
Would love to, but the IT guys are blocking it.

View results

Boss buttons (or keys) have been around for years, of course. Some Macintosh games back in the 1980s included them (though for most of us using Macs in those days, it was more like a "parent button" because we were supposed to be doing our homework). CNET's has a list of boss buttons, and there are even entire sites dedicated to them.

Come every March, thanks to office pools on the NCAA college basketball tournament, boss buttons are as common on desktop computers as personal e-mails and photos of your friends: They're probably not supposed to be there, but we all have them. NCAA.comhas even provided a helpful boss button on its Web site.

Here's a thought: Let's stop all the silly shenanigans and make boss buttons a thing of the past. Get it out in the open and let people keep track of the office pools without worrying about getting into trouble. The average American is spending more time in the office than ever. And the average tech worker spends even more time than that. There's a reason all those Silicon Valley companies offer free food, subsidized child care, laundry, auto-detailing, and swanky gyms: So you never have an excuse to go home.

So cut those hardworking people a break. We're not talking porn here, folks. Let's put a TV somewhere in the office and stop all the sneaking around.

I know what the killjoys are thinking right now: This is a slippery slope! What's next: Christmas shopping at the desk? Sharing funny YouTube videos with coworkers? Where does the madness stop?

The ultimate office killjoys at Challenger, Gray & Christmas have even put a dollar figure on the money lost to people checking out the NCAA tournament while at work: It could be as much as $1.7 billion in wasted work time over the 16 business days of the tournament. The Challenger estimate is based on "the number of people expected to participate in office pools, the amount of money they earn and the amount of work time wasted on March Madness related activities, whether it is trash talking at the watercooler or watching live videos of the games during business hours."

While I have no idea how much money Challenger wasted doing this research, it does have a few more tidbits: A 2006 Harris poll found that 13 percent of Americans aged 18 and older plan to participate in an office March Madness pool. The press release announcing the Challenger survey goes on for six pages. In fairness, it offers some workplace tips for dealing with the tournament. OK, some of them are pretty corny, but I appreciate the spirit:

•  Pick 64 MVPs. This is high on the cornball meter. Bestow MVP honors on employees chosen ahead of time...for some reason. No, I really don't get it either.

•  Team sweatshirt day. Relax the dress code for the first Friday of the tournament so everyone can wear the sweatshirt of their favorite team. At CNET, we'd call this "formal attire day," but I imagine that would be letting down the hair at a lot of offices.

•  Offer anti-tourney prizes. Basically, start something for the people who don't care about basketball. Sure. Gotta be fair and all that.

•  Offer flexible schedules. Umm, OK, I don't know about this one. The manager in me says, "Are you insane? It's just freaking basketball."

•  Organize a company pool. Done. I mean, CNET in no way encourages gambling on collegiate or professional sports.

•  Keep a bracket posted. Good idea. But I should reiterate, CNET in no way encourages gambling on a collegiate or professional sports.

•  Keep television in break room tuned to coverage. Duh! It's what I'm saying. Let's take it out of the closet. Do away with the boss button, and accept the facts: For 16 days, nearly all of us are college basketball fans. We pretend to know the starting lineup of Western Kentucky, and feign shock when Stanford fails yet again to make the Final Four.

And please, stop with the boss button. I know exactly what you're doing.