Welles: Teleworking lingo

USPTO teleworkers can 'hotel' at the office.

Trademark attorneys at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have a life. They can work at home, and they can "hotel" — that's a new verb that means that those who telework can reserve space at the office when needed.

About half of USPTO's trademark attorneys work at home with a PC, printer, high-speed Internet connection and telephone line provided by the agency. USPTO officials also provide an online reservation system that saves commuting time for employees and office space costs for the agency. It allowed agency officials to vacate three floors in the Crystal City North Tower, saving USPTO $1.5 million annually. And the savings are expected to increase when the agency moves to new quarters in Alexandria, Va.

When officials complete the move by Oct. 12, about half of the nearly 300-member trademark attorney workforce will be hoteling at 30 reserved offices. USPTO attorneys can reserve general-use offices through Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook.

In the past, attorneys who teleworked also had private offices at agency buildings and were required to work there at least two days a week. "With the hoteling system, they can work at home almost all of the time, and check in just once a week for whatever time they need," said Deborah Cohn, group director for USPTO's Trademark Law Offices. The requirement is at least 15 minutes a week at the office, the minimum amount of time for compensation.

"Hoteling allows people to maximize home and work life," Cohn said. "Not all jobs in all agencies might permit it, but as agencies become more electronic, telework and hoteling might become possible."

In addition, USPTO officials have been moving increasingly from paper to electronic filing, making it less necessary for attorneys to go to the office to examine paper files.

"Especially with hoteling, I have more flexibility about when I come into the office and that helps me be more productive," said Jennifer Chicoski, one of the teleworking attorneys. "Trademark files are public record, and the majority of applications are filed online so there is less concern about confidentiality. We also use a secure network to access files and information."

Chicoski's home office is a small, separate room in her house. She also has a wireless network. Officials at USPTO and the National Treasury Employees Union have held brown-bag lunch sessions to give employees information and tips about setting up home offices and avoiding distractions.

Because trademark productivity is measurable in terms of number of cases processed, managers have become more flexible about not seeing all of their staff all of the time and permitting telework, as long as productivity remains high. In addition to the 150 attorneys who are hoteling, another 30 trademark employees also telework.

"It seems silly that we do the same hard work as others in government and they have the added burden of going to an office," Chicoski said.

The 86 percent of federal employees who are still commuting daily to their offices would probably agree.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.