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Patent Telework Success

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The Patent and Trademark Office has long been considered a model for other federal agencies when it comes to telework adoption. And, according to the latest report on the status of teleworking at PTO, it remains a telework leader: Seventy-nine percent of employees are eligible to work from home at least one day per week.

The PTO's 2011 telework status report noted that more than 6,500 employees agencywide are teleworking at least one day per week. A large number of employees are teleworking more than one day per week, with 3,464 working from home between four and five days per week and 3,114 working from home one to three days per week. Those figures mark an overall increase of 922 teleworking employees from the previous fiscal year.

Those working from home at least one day per week last year avoided driving more than 7.9 million miles, saved more than $1 million in gasoline and reduced emissions by 4,150 tons. Those teleworking four to five days per week in 2011 avoided driving more than 39.9 miles, saved more than $5.2 million on gasoline and reduced emissions by 20,957 tons, according to the report.

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act authorized PTO to establish a pilot program that allows employees to voluntarily relocate from their pre-existing official duty station to an alternate work site and waive agency payment of travel expenses for a reasonable number of required occasional trips back to the original duty station. PTO has conducted a thorough cost and benefit analysis of the program, which has been sent to the General Services Administration for approval, the report stated.

In 2011, PTO also expanded on its Trademark Work at Home program, which promotes telework in all of its Trademark organization work units. The expansion resulted in 97 percent of all trademark employees being eligible to telework, with 88 percent of those workers doing so.

"The most significant positive change [as a result of the Trademark Work at Home program] has been our employees' increased job satisfaction," said Deborah Cohn, commissioner for trademarks at PTO. "We certainly have a low attrition rate. The most important difference has been how we communicate with those in a remote environment, but the good news is we have become better communicators as a result."

The agency in 2010 also established a working group to discuss the feasibility of conducting a pilot program to test satellite offices outside of the mid-Atlantic region. In 2011, the agency launched the first of these satellite offices in Detroit, Mich., as part of the Nationwide Workforce Program. The program enables PTO to expand its traditional hiring methods by targeting specific areas of the country where resources, employees and technical expertise exist.

"We have found that employees, who need to meet the needs of elderly parents, or who must move with a spouse who gets a new job, or who simply prefer living in another part of the country, are able to keep their position with the USPTO and continue to provide excellent service," said Margaret Focarino, commissioner for patents at PTO.

In 2011, the agency also launched its Universal Laptop initiative, which enables the agency to support its telework program without having to duplicate equipment for teleworkers. The program supports a cost-effective means for supporting teleworkers and non-teleworkers by issuing just one laptop, versus a laptop and desktop computer.

In 2012, PTO plans to expand its Nationwide Workforce Program and implement the Telework Enhancement Act pilot program. "The USPTO will sustain its role as a telework thought and practice leader throughout the next decade," the report said. "As telework continues to expand within USPTO and beyond, the USPTO experience and voice will be a role model for federal agencies seeking to further develop telework opportunities for their personnel."

(Image via joingate /Shutterstock.com)

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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