PTO Proves Teleworking Works

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) employees participating in the agency’s Patent Hoteling Program (PHP)—the agency’s largest telework program—process more patent applications per year than their in-office counterparts and save the agency millions of dollars each year, according to a February 1 report by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General titled “The Patent Hoteling Program Is Succeeding as a Business Strategy.”  PHP participants work from home at least four days a week and reserve office space for when they need to be present at PTO headquarters. (The agency offers its employees a variety of telework options, including opportunities to telework from one to five days per week.) By the end of fiscal year 2011, more than 2,600 patent examiners were participating in PHP. The program’s goals include reducing space and cost requirements while improving employee retention. (With the largest and most expensive GSA lease in the United States, PTO clearly has a big incentive to reduce its office space needs—or at least keep them from rising even higher.)

The report indicates that while PHP participants don’t process applications at a greater rate than traditional employees, they do review about 4% more patent applications, use less sick and administrative leave, and charge less time to administrative tasks. In addition to generating more revenue, they cost the agency less.  In the areas of real estate, taxes, utilities, and transit benefit costs, a PHP employee costs PTO only $1,350/year, versus $10,935 for an in-office employee. While it costs PTO $5,500 to get a PHP employee set up and running—and PHP employees are allowed to deduct up to $100 in Internet service provider (ISP) fees per month—even with all IT and real estate expenses combined, a PHP employee costs PTO $1,710 less than an in-office employee in his or her first year in the program, and $3,385 less each subsequent year. “Whereas PTO reported that it avoids $15.88 million annually in real estate costs by having PHP, we estimated that this amount is approximately $16.84 million,” the report states. It concludes that “the Patent Hoteling Program’s overall design, policies, and controls provide a framework for other [federal agencies’] telework programs to consider.”