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Workplace management strategies: Balancing needs and expectations

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor
As the nation prepares for what some consider to be the most historic presidential inauguration ever, are you and your IT organization ready to say, "Yes, we can"?

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Yes, that is, to the question of whether your network can support a lot of streaming media at around 11:30 a.m. EST Jan. 20. Yes, you'll have ample staff on hand to manage systems that day (no sickouts). Yes, you can run some AV into the cafeteria if the CEO decides the company should gather 'round the plasma to watch history in the making.

Managing the workplace during national events -- whether planned or crisis -- requires something akin to an advance team. Having a workplace management plan, understanding the potential different needs of employees and mapping out the challenges you could run into will ensure that you're prepared to lead your team and company IT for the duration.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA), as a sports and entertainment organization, is used to streaming media for national events. The USTA hosts the US Open two to three weeks a year and understands the necessity of bandwidth spike preparation, such as if all 350 employees decided to watch Barack Obama take his oath as the 44th president of the United States.

"If you look at our architecture, we're prepared to stream at a higher level," said Larry Bonfante, CIO of the USTA. "We're engineered for this. We usually run at 60% capacity on a regular basis, with the potential to burst to 90% for situations like the US Open, in order to accommodate spikes in network traffic."

With a solid workplace management plan in place, including backup IT support, Bonfante is confident his organization's system can handle any possible bandwidth issues during the inauguration. So far it doesn't look like staffing will be a problem, either. "Some people will want to take personal days or sick days to watch it, but we've had no real overwhelming requests. We've had situations like this in the past, but we can count on a skeleton crew to support the major functions," he said.

Strategic planning in the office

Some businesses must run 24/7 no matter what, like Viejas Casino, located outside San Diego. To keep the 2,000-employee operation running smoothly, Ram Patrachari, vice president of IT at Viejas Enterprises, plans ahead and adheres to specific policies -- no matter what event may be taking place. For example, employees must schedule all time off at the start of the year and must "share the pain," working various holidays to ensure the casino is fully staffed at all times.

Patrachari acknowledged that the inauguration may slow down productivity, but it won't slow down the network. "All employees are blocked from accessing and streaming all media during peak business hours. Break rooms with televisions are always available for employee use, should they be interested in watching public-interest events then," he explained.

Acknowledging employee interest

Striking a balance between employee interest and company expectations is key,

Some people will want to take personal days or sick days to watch it, but we've had
no real overwhelming requests.

Larry Bonfante
CIOUSTA
the CIOs agreed. At the USTA, Bonfante will occasionally bring televisions into the cafeteria. "For some events such as the Davis Cup, we'll set up a TV in the cafeteria, airing network televised events, and invite people down on their lunch breaks. We'll have pizza, sandwiches and people can come down when they have time."

Of course, the workplace can only go so far in accommodating worker interests during the day. "We were in a similar situation [to the upcoming inauguration] during March Madness. We have to gently remind employees of why they are here, and we wouldn't expect to see anyone streaming two hours of a game," Bonfante said.

Patrachari advises other CIOs to have technical and communication policies as part of a workplace management strategy to use whenever needed, be that for a big event or in an unplanned emergency, like the wildfires in Southern California. "Always plan for the unplanned and have triggers in place, so to speak, in the event they need to be pulled," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor


This was first published in January 2009

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