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The federal government supports it, and advocacy groups like Telework Exchange encourage it, but there is still an aversion from private-sector management, according to recent surveys.
That might be changing, however slowly. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, along with President Barack Obama’s strong support of telecommuting, has helped ease the transition. Faster, more secure home networks and the proliferation of cloud services also have played a part.
Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, is buoyed by the surge in telework adoption by the federal government. “Agencies are realizing that telework can contribute to many other business objectives: real estate savings, IT efficiency, recruitment/retention and productivity,” she told SHRM Online.
In February 2012, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) celebrated a milestone achievement—reaching 3,000 patent examiners and technical support staff personnel participating in its Patents Hoteling Program, in which participating employees telework from their fully functioning home offices on a nearly full-time basis.
‘Recognized as a Model’
“The USPTO believes our implementation and progress in this teleworking program is recognized as a model for other federal agencies to consider as a best practice. We are proud of the contributions made thus far from our participants, which we believe will assist in achieving our strategic goals and mission,” said USPTO Commissioner for Patents Margaret Focarino.
The hoteling program is the largest telework program offered to USPTO employees. Hoteling is defined as working from home at least four days a week with the option to reserve a work space designed for use on a shared, as-needed basis. The workforce literally checks in and out of this office when a physical presence in the office is required, using and then leaving behind its standard business tools and technologies. Since the program began at USPTO in 2006, hoteling has grown steadily and has contributed greatly to the organization’s ability to integrate telework into its overall enterprise business strategy, the agency said.
“Within the Telework Exchange community, the Patent and Trademark Office is certainly a telework role model,” Auten said. “The agency recognized many years ago that it could leverage flexible workplace practices, such as hoteling and teleworking, to streamline business operations, increase resiliency and support work/life balance.”
The USPTO conducts comprehensive training for all participants of the hoteling program, including going over organizational cultural norms, as well as technical considerations. The mandatory training includes a day when every participant works from home and tests all necessary equipment and system access.
“USPTO carefully evaluates the critical components that make a telework program successful, such as management, IT, training and communication, and continually implements many pilot programs to expand or enhance telework initiatives,” Auten said.
The USPTO’s hoteling program is considered one of the leading government telework programs and is on track to be expanded governmentwide, according to the agency.
A recent audit by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General (IG) confirmed the impact that the program is having on the USPTO’s business operations. The IG report found that program participants process 3.5 more patent applications per year than their in-office counterparts.
While hoteling employees didn’t process applications at a significantly greater rate than their in-office colleagues, they reviewed patents for more hours than those not participating in the program, the report found. Hoteling participants spend on average 66.3 more hours per year examining patents than an examiner working at USPTO headquarters, meaning that they review about 4 percent more applications, according to the report.
Less Leave Time Taken
“We found that the average [hoteling] participant allocates a greater proportion of time to examining patents. [Hoteling] participants use less sick and administrative leave and charge less time to other activities not directly defined as examining patents,” the report stated.
The report says that the additional applications reviewed by each teleworking employee can result in $13,373 in revenue for the USPTO over 14 years. In addition to increasing revenue in the long run, the program is expected to reduce costs, mainly in the form of real estate savings. The audit revealed that the USPTO avoids costs of approximately $1,710 per teleworking employee in the first year and avoids costs of approximately $3,385 per participant in each subsequent year.
USPTO has reported that because of its telework programs, it avoids approximately $19.88 million annually for office space costs. Of this amount, approximately $15.88 million in real estate costs are avoided annually because of the hoteling program. USPTO avoids this real estate cost because program participants relinquish their offices, freeing up office space and mitigating USPTO’s need to acquire additional space, the report found.
“Management as a whole must embrace the culture shift and begin evaluating employees based on work output rather than physical presence,” Auten said. “Organizations should offer opportunities for managers and employees to give telework a try and see if the negativity that they have toward telework remains once they experience it directly,” she added.
Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.
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