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How does office pool work?

Office pools are a fun way for coworkers to participate in predicting the outcome of popular sports events. They allow everyone to get involved regardless of their knowledge of the sport or teams involved. At their most basic level, office pools involve participants picking the winner of a given event and the person with the correct prediction wins the pool. However, there are many variations on how to run an office pool. Here we will walk through the typical setup and operation of an office pool.

What is an office pool?

An office pool, often referred to as a betting pool, is when a group of coworkers put money into a collective pot and try to correctly predict the outcome of an upcoming event. The most classic examples are March Madness basketball tournament brackets or football squares for the Super Bowl. The money collected from everyone who enters is the “pool” and whoever makes the most accurate prediction wins the entire pot.

Office pools don’t have to involve sports – they can be set up for events like award shows, reality competitions, or political elections. The unifying factor is a group of people making predictions on an event and putting money down on those predictions.

Why are office pools popular?

There are several reasons office pools are commonly found in workplaces:

  • They build camaraderie and relationships between coworkers as you root for your predictions.
  • They add excitement and anticipation for upcoming events.
  • They require no special skills, just luck – everyone has a shot at winning.
  • The small entry fees allow even those on a budget to participate.
  • They break up office routines and gives employees something fun to talk about.

The communal spirit and suspense make office pools engaging activities that bring coworkers together. Even those who don’t follow sports closely can get swept up in March Madness fever. Office pools turn casual viewers into invested fans.

How do office pools work?

The structure of an office pool can vary greatly depending on factors like the event, the number of participants, and personal preferences of the organizer. Here is an outline of standard steps for a typical pool:

  1. Find a fun event to predict – Popular choices are major sporting events like the Super Bowl or World Cup. The event should have an unambiguous winner.
  2. Get buy-in from coworkers – Gauge interest from coworkers and settle on an event several weeks in advance.
  3. Choose the pool format – Select a template or grid for making picks like brackets or squares.
  4. Set rules and prize amount – Decide on entry fees, payout breakdowns, and ground rules.
  5. Promote and collect entries – Advertise the pool and deadline and gather picks and money.
  6. Make final payouts – After the event ends, tally up results and award winnings.

The chunks of time before the entry deadline and then waiting for the results allows the excitement to build in the office. Friendly arguments over unlikely upsets or close contests make for good watercooler chat.

Selecting the format

One of the first decisions to make when setting up a pool is which format to use for making predictions. Some popular options:

  • Brackets – Commonly used for tournaments like March Madness or the World Cup. Participants predict the outcome of every game through each round.
  • Squares – Usually used for a single championship game. The grid of squares is assigned numbers for each team, and you get the square your numbers cross.
  • Pick ’em – Simply involves picking the winning team, best for events like the Super Bowl.
  • Confidence points – Pick the winner and assign a point value reflecting your confidence, riskier upset picks earn more points.

The format should align with how many entrants you have and the structure of the event you are predicting. Brackets and confidence points help differentiate entries for office pools with larger numbers of participants.

Setting the rules

Office pools should have clear rules outlined upfront to avoid any disputes. Things to establish include:

  • Entry fee amount
  • Deadline for submitting picks
  • How ties will be handled
  • How prize money will be divided (winner-take-all or also paying 2nd/3rd place)
  • Any restrictions on eligibility such as interns or executives

Also consider if there will be penalties for missing the entry deadline or changing picks after the deadline. The rules should emphasize fun over strict adherence.

Promoting the pool

To get strong participation, you need to promote the office pool with plenty of lead time. Some tips:

  • Send out a launch email with the basic details several weeks before the deadline.
  • Post flyers in common areas to remind people of sign-ups.
  • Visit desks individually to answer questions.
  • Send periodic reminder emails as the deadline gets closer.
  • Consider small prizes or raffles for prompt entries.

Wide promotion ensures even less sports-focused staff knows about the pool opportunity. Make the signup process fast and straightforward to convert interested coworkers into entrants.

Collecting entries

Once you’ve advertised the office pool, you need to provide a way to collect entries and money. Some options:

  • Spreadsheet – Share a link to a digital sign-up sheet where people enter their info.
  • Paper form – Post a physical sign-up sheet in a central place like the breakroom.
  • Boxes – Place boxes for submitting paper entries around the office.
  • Digital apps – Use a pool management app or create a poll on your intranet.

Allow multiple methods like paper and digital if possible. Send confirmations as entries come in. Keep options open until shortly before the deadline in case of last-minute entrants.

Making payouts

Once the event finishes, it’s time to determine the winner(s) and hand out the prize money. Some tips:

  • Verify and audit results carefully before announcing to check for errors.
  • Make the payout checks or cash available immediately to capitalize on the excitement.
  • Consider rewarding 2nd and 3rd place with gift cards or treats.
  • Publicize and congratulate the winners around the office.
  • Securely store any entry fee money not awarded in case of disputed results.

Prompt payouts and office-wide announcements help give closure to the pool. Save any unused prize money for seeding the next pool or an office party.

Office Pool Variations

Once you get the basics down, there are endless ways to put new twists on office pools:

  • Pick ’em pools – Instead of picking just the winner, make picks for 2nd and 3rd place or beyond.
  • Prop bets – Predict specific stats or events during the competition unrelated to the final outcome.
  • Mini-games – Run smaller short-term pools during timeouts or between periods.
  • Combination pools – Combine multiple events like an Oscars-Grammys pool.
  • Shared entries – Enter as multi-person teams and split any prizes.

Keep the spirit of friendly competition at the core as you customize and experiment with new pool formats.

Benefits of Office Pools

Well-run office pools offer many positive elements beyond just winning cash:

  • They build stronger bonds and familiarity between coworkers.
  • Pools add fun diversions from daily work stress.
  • Friendly rivalries motivate extra effort and performance.
  • They provide learning experiences in probability and risk assessment.
  • Pools teach project management skills like organization, planning and collecting money.

With their team-building and skill-building impacts, office pools can benefit companies and employees when kept lighthearted.

Potential Office Pool Issues

While office pools create positive energy in most cases, pools organizers should be mindful of a few potential drawbacks:

  • Pools based on personal entry fees can pressure people with less discretionary income.
  • Some staff may feel social anxiety around declining to enter.
  • Overinvestment in pools can damage workplace productivity.
  • Gambling during work hours may violate company policy or local laws.
  • Winners bragging can negatively impact office culture.

Keeping entry fees minimal, allowing anonymous entries, monitoring work time spent on pools, and encouraging good sportsmanship can help maximize fun while minimizing any downsides.

Are Office Pools Legal?

The legality of office pools depends on jurisdiction. In the United States, most private pools are considered legal, especially if the following applies:

  • Money goes directly from participants to the prize fund (no organizer “cut”).
  • The office pool is completely voluntary for entrants.
  • All participants are informed of rules and payout breakdowns upfront.
  • No one outside the office workforce is allowed to enter.
  • The total amount wagered stays under certain thresholds.

However, consult your company policies as some explicitly prohibit gambling activities. Pools should focus on fun over large profits to stay compliant.

Tools for Managing Office Pools

While office pools can be run manually with paper brackets and spreadsheets, various apps and tools exist to make coordination easier:

Tool Highlights Pool management with brackets, confidence, pick ’em pools. Email alerts and promos. Custom pools for any sport or event. Integration with website and social media.
Bolt Office Pools Mobile-optimized simple pools. Templates for most major sporting events. Collects payments and tracks results. Pools for reality shows and more. Free squares boards supporting teams or players. Ad-based.

Online services reduce busywork for organizers in collecting money, tracking results, and promotions. Still review the setup and scoring used to ensure it matches your preferences.

Office Pool Ideas

While the most common office pools center on major sporting championships and March Madness, the possibilities are endless. Some fun alternative pool themes:

  • Awards shows like the Oscars or Emmys – Guess the winners
  • Game shows – Pick daily or weekly Jeopardy winners
  • Politics – Outcomes of elections or debates
  • Reality competitions – Survivor, America’s Got Talent, American Idol results
  • Office-specific – Baby due dates, new hires, next to use sick days
  • Miscellaneous events – Weather forecasts, stock performance, gas prices

Use your imagination to customize pools to your office’s interests. Tie themes into upcoming company retreats, holiday parties, or milestones. Options with shorter turnarounds like TV singing auditions or political debates allow for multiple pools per year.

How much does it cost to run an office pool?

Starting an office pool has minimal mandatory costs. Typical expenses include:

  • Prize money – Funded by participants’ entry fees, no minimum needed.
  • Promotional materials – Flyers, emails, small amounts for pens/decorations.
  • Event research – Review odds and info from sportsbooks or contest rules.
  • Management tools – Optional paid apps for collecting entries and tracking results.
  • Prizes for drawings – Small rewards for early registration, referrals, etc.

Many office pool organizers handle the entire process manually with no out-of-pocket costs besides prize money. Larger, more complex pools may incur optional software fees. Overall though, pools can be run very economically.


Office pools are time-tested ways to build morale, collegiality, and engagement across an organization. With mindful organization and promotion, pools allow employees at all levels to unite around exciting upcoming events. The communal guessing and suspense create shared experiences that strengthen workplace culture. Pools keep operations fun and spirited even during busy seasons.

By following the framework of choosing an event, setting rules, gathering entries, and making payouts, anyone can host a simple office pool. Expanding to more sophisticated formats like brackets, customized scoring, and creative side contests allows for adaptation to any workplace. Office pools are classics for good reason – when done responsibly, they deliver teamwork, enrichment, and positive energy to any organization.