Patent Office ends time sheets, expands flex schedules

klunney@govexec.com

The Patent and Trademark Office has announced that now the agency is officially a performance-based organization, it is eliminating the requirement that employees sign in and out on time sheets and expanding opportunities for employees to work flexible hours.

"As a PBO, we're going to strive to give you the freedom to challenge the status quo of our culture," PTO Commissioner Q. Todd Dickinson told agency employees at a ceremony last week celebrating the enactment of legislation that gave the agency more independence, along with greater accounatbility for business results. "We're going to encourage you to be creative, to take initiative-to take risks and suggest things that should be changed."

"First, effective immediately, we're throwing out sign-in/sign-out sheets-and this applies to overtime and comp time, too," Dickinson said. He also announced PTO would expand the hours employees could choose to work under flexible schedules from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The new policy will allow PTO to offer mid-day flexible schedules, under which employees could work a standard eight-hour day in two shifts. For example, an employee could come into work at 5:30 a.m. for four hours, then return at 1:30 p.m. for four more hours. The four-hour block of free time during the day would enable the employee to run errands that would otherwise be impossible to accomplish in the evening.

Dickinson also said PTO would allow employees to dress casually on Fridays and set up an "employee communication mailbox" to foster communication throughout the agency.

Ronald Stern, president of the Patent Office Professionals Association, credited Dickinson for being the "moving force" behind the changes. But he added that the agency's "self-proclaimed status" as a PBO is "more a state of mind" than anything else.

"This is something every single agency has within itself to accomplish. You don't have to be a PBO," said Stern.

In fact, many agencies have already implemented the type of programs Dickinson is starting at PTO. Vice President Al Gore advised agencies in 1993 to eliminate sign-in/sign-out sheets and introduce flextime as a work option for employees.

Stern said the PTO has traditionally been a very conservative place, and the changes Dickinson is introducing-the expansion of flextime in particular-are not wholly embraced across the board. "Some managers are not convinced this is a good idea," he said.

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