A recent study by Challenger Gray & Christmas found companies lose a whopping $1.9 billion in productivity during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament starting this week. While streaming the games made the list of productivity killers, media coverage missed a much bigger risk for many business owners and IT managers.NCAA basketball tournament bracket

For the millions whose business phone systems work using VoIP – or Voice over Internet Protocol – instead of “plain old telephone service” (POTS) the risk is far greater than just slow web page load times and file downloads. Those streaming games and emailed brackets can block your shot at taking, making and hearing calls between you, your employees and your customers.

The key is how your network is set up, and more specifically how your router is configured to deal with the different types of traffic (voice and data). To ensure the bandwidth-hogging basketball games this March don’t bury your call quality, the name of the game is Quality of Service (QoS).

QoS tells your network to prioritize voice traffic first, above all else. QoS then manages things like streaming video that aren’t as sensitive to a few missing or delayed packets. Packets are the small groups of data that travel to and fro, and QoS reprioritizes them on the fly based on the kind of data. So traffic that’s less picky about packets will get in line behind your voice traffic.

For any QoS solution on your local area network (LAN) in your office to work, your IP phones or network equipment must have a reliable way to identify what traffic on your network is a voice call. If your admin didn’t have a discussion about QoS when you installed your system and you notice a dip in call quality during daytime games, it might be worth checking your router settings with your provider.

Phone system service providers who don’t build QoS into their installation process risk calls plagued by jitter, latency and packet loss during periods of heavy Internet use. Any of those can result in calls that sound horrible to your callers. The good news is that leading providers like Fonality build QoS into the installation process for each system – whether they use their existing router or get one from us.

To score the absolute best call quality, have a game plan ahead of time. In addition to QoS, communicate a clear IT policy when it comes to streaming video on game days – or any other time you notice a network slow down. Very few employees are hoping to hurt the business when they start streaming. They just may not know the impact. Consider asking employees to use their mobile data to stream, explaining why it’s important to the business.

If your 100 Mbps connection is suddenly seems to have hit a slump on game days, give Ookla’s SpeedTest a whirl. It’s a great way to confirm your internet performance before you call a foul on tournament-obsessed colleagues.

The impact of streaming video during big events isn’t limited to businesses, by the way. It’s a pain point for home networks as well. For tips on how to keep the peace by keeping your kids’ online video games from lagging while you watch hoops, check out this PC World article.