A Day in the Life

If you follow the news from Washington DC (I can't blame you if you don’t, but I live there) you know that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been under fire for abuses to its telework program. A Commerce Department Inspector General's (IG) report found that teleworkers (translate working from home) surfed the Internet, exercised, watched TV, and did laundry when they should have been "working." The IG also found that these teleworkers spend more time examining applications because they take less sick, vacation and personal time. In fact, they spend 66.3 more hours a year examining patent applications than in-house examiners.

Surfing the net during working hours, shameful! I flashed back to a former corporate life when we were trying to craft a policy on use of electronic media. Keep them off-line—they need to be working. Exercising during working hours, disgraceful. Yet I remember two men I worked with, both executives, who spent their lunch hours exercising, one at the gym across the street and the other jogging on the trails around the business park. Watching TV, outrageous! Yet I remember times when coworkers and I huddled around TVs to watch sobering news events such as the Columbine shootings and Oklahoma City bombings. The closest thing to doing laundry during work hours in my corporate years was running to the dry cleaners at lunch.

At a Writers' Digest Conference Barbara and I attended recently a writer (translate: someone who receives royalty checks on a regular, steady income from writing) was asked what his day was like. It went something like this: breakfast, take the kids to school, back to the home office to write for the morning, lunch, gym in the afternoon (a by-product of that, it increases endorphins) then into the office for a while. Another writer talked about watching movies on TV. She has to convince her husband she's working when she does it—she’s studying characters! When she's blocked, she does laundry. It clears her mind, gives her a chance to reboot, and makes her feel that she is being productive.

Anyone who's ever worked in an office environment can attest to how much time workers are capable of wasting. Gossip around the water cooler or break room, folks dropping by to chat, smoke breaks, coffee breaks, and oh yes, surfing the Internet in the office. Having experienced both corporate life and independent consultant's life, I can attest that I'm much more productive working from a home office.

There are questions as to whether managers at the PTO used the tools available to determine if work was getting done. If they did not, the problem may lie with the managers and not the teleworkers. Results, (translate, what gets done) not place, (translate, where it gets done) should matter. And managers should be managing!

The point, workers have lives and during their daily 8 to 5 routines, they need to have the time to take care of their business and not be "chained" to their desks or workstations.


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