Working Through Snowmageddon
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
It is probably safe to say this week did not turn out like anyone had originally planned. In my case, a solid slate of meetings each day either turned into conference calls or were postponed in view of people being unable to reach the office. And as someone who has lived in cold New England for most of the last decade, I can vouch that this week has been "the real thing" in terms of rough sledding, if you'll excuse the metaphor.
But while it would have been understandable for folks at our agency to be mostly idled by the unprecedented weather conditions, I have been really impressed both with the high level of productivity generally, and with the creativity our team has demonstrated in carrying forward despite the weather. This is where we see the benefits of an adaptive workforce, and teleworking, really shine.
As one example, the Trademarks team has leveraged its Trademark Work at Home program to maintain fully 86% of normal workday production this week. Frankly, holding productivity that high in the face of not only a total office shutdown, but a near-total societal shutdown, is amazing -- better than would be expected even in the private sector.
Another great example comes out of the Patents team, where a group of examiners self-organized to conduct a "Snowstorm Quality Enhancement Meeting (or QEM)." They used teleconferencing from a combination of phones and laptops, established an attendance list to ensure everyone on the call was known and able to actively participate, and proceeded through the attendance list examiner-by-examiner to discuss issues and resolve them in real time. The result was a robust discussion producing truly helpful solutions, and a genuine exchange. Participants commented that the Snowstorm QEM may actually have been *more* efficient and thorough than some in-person QEMs.
Agency-wide, more than 3,000 employees logged on to our Virtual Private Network (VPN), in addition to the thousands of others who logged in through our Webmail client or Blackberrys. This is remarkable considering how many in the area have had several days without electricity and/or Internet access.
And I must also mention the steadfast work of the administrative team in the Office of the Under Secretary, which I'm sure like many other administrative teams around the Agency, transitioned seamlessly to work from home this week-- moving meetings over to conference calls, scheduling new calls in real time, and keeping us working efficiently from wherever we have all been stuck. This week has reminded me of one of my management lemmas: our administrative support teams provide the platform for everything we do, and we'd get very little done without their support.
It is really encouraging as a leader and manager to learn about teams of folks getting together to find a way to get things done, despite all the impediments we have dealt with this week. How was your office impacted by this week’s weather? Were you able to telework like so many of our employees did? I look forward to hearing your stories.