Telecommuting takes off at Patent and Trademark Office

The Patent and Trademark Office will soon have 25 percent of its trademark attorneys telecommuting, a goal that the federal workforce as a whole must achieve by April 2001. PTO has been a telecommuting leader among federal agencies since it established a two-year pilot project in 1997, allowing 18 examining attorneys to work from home. The measure began as a way to keep good employees and relieve office overcrowding at the agency. "We were very careful to provide strong measurement tools to analyze whether or not it was a good business decision on our part to support telecommuting," said Anne H. Chasser, PTO's commissioner for trademarks. "What we found was that those [employees] who worked at home had a 38 percent higher percentage of examining hours than those that worked in the office." Telecommuting employees are chosen by seniority. The agency sets up a workstation in each employee's home. Currently, telecommuters work in the office twice a week. Chasser said she expects that working one day in the office will be the norm in the future. Nora Buchanan Will, a PTO employee since 1990, says telecommuting makes her think twice about looking for another job. "It's dramatically changed the quality of my work life," Will said. "I've been much more productive on the program. I've used much less leave because of the ability to work from home. I have three children and I've maximized the amount of time I can spend with them as well. I can kind of structure the work day out the way I want to." By law, federal agencies must establish policies allowing eligible employees to telecommute. The law also requires OPM to ensure that 25 percent of the federal workforce is participating in telecommuting programs at least part of the time by April 2001. Last month the Office of Personnel Management beefed up its telecommuting guidance under pressure from Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a key architect of the government's telecommuting policy. Wolf was responsible for adding the language setting telecommuting goals to the fiscal 2001 Transportation appropriations bill. Acting OPM Director Steven Cohen told agencies in a Feb. 9 memo to identify positions that lend themselves to telecommuting and then offer employees the option of working from home or at a telecommuting center. Agencies must report on their telecommuting arrangements by April 2. PTO managers have embraced telecommuting, and employees have lined up to participate, said Chasser. The program will expand to include patent examining attorneys soon. "It's a wholesale improvement in morale for those [employees] who work at home," Chasser said. "Some of our folks work as far away as Harrisburg, Pa. and Boston." Margery Tierney, a PTO employee for 17 years, recently began telecommuting and says she is a much more efficient employee working from home. "I'm able to juggle being a mom, a wife, a lawyer and have a lot of outside interests and I'm able to make everything work because I'm able to do a lot of my work from home," Tierney said.
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