06.23.22

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EPO Management Behaves As If the Goal is to Shut Down and Outsource the Patent Office, Making a ‘Monopolies Bank’ Instead… or Having Rubber-Stamping With Kangaroo Courts Override the European Patent Convention (EPC)

Posted in Europe, Patents at 10:48 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 7337ee218b827f2a1121a0103fb4f979
EPO Hates Its Workers
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: Flabbergasting strategy in Europe’s second-largest institution makes one wonder if the goal is to drive out the workers or simply shut down the workplace

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO, or elected staff representatives to put it all in more generic terms, is rightly concerned. For a little bit of background see “Hot desking was meant to save us all time and money. It hasn’t” (Wired) and “The hidden hell of hot-desking is much worse than you think” (FT behind paywall; EPO-bribed publisher). There are more references in the publication below, but one can get the gist of the issue…

Last night we published At the EPO, “Bringing Teams Together” or “New Management of Office Space” is Another Step Towards EPO Outsourcing and we showed two internal publications. “According to our estimates, 33% of staff (at best) may have a permanently allocated desk,” the LSCMN committee wrote this week.

What on Earth is going on???

“Can’t examiners in Europe’s largest patent office expect and receive the very basics?”So workers with 6-figure salaries… cannot have their own PC and chair?

People with several degrees and decades of experience in difficult disciplines? They are hard to recruit and retain.

As explained in the video above, I’m speechless. I lack the words to express how baffling this is. It just doesn’t. Make. Any. Sense. At all!

I’ve asked some people around for their thoughts about “hot-desking” or “hoteling” (being a temporary guest in one’s ‘own’ compartment). In my personal experience, when they dynamically allocate a desk at work it’s done for practical reasons under very particular circumstances (like computer labs with special equipment that’s scarce and very experience). Think about the sharing of a 3-D printer for example… I don’t have experience with this except in Computer Science labs, where engineering/programmable boards are made available to students. In other situations it can be helpful for experiments and simulations on computer clusters, e.g. overnight utilisation of untapped computing resources. Otherwise idling…

“In my own experience, as a postgraduate student and then as a postdoc, we all got individual desks.”But this is not what’s happening at the EPO. So again, this does not make any sense at all. Not even remotely practical…

Can’t examiners in Europe’s largest patent office expect and receive the very basics? In my own experience, as a postgraduate student and then as a postdoc, we all got individual desks. The annunal payment was a lot lower (zero as a student!) and back then the typical computers were a lot more expensive.

A Techrights associate told me that “it has been proven through multiple studies to be both inefficient and demoralizing” to share desks. He said “it really is intended to limit the employee’s ability to get work done and to mess with their status…”

This whole arranagement “makes *everything* more difficult,” the associate concluded, and “that is a primary goal.”

And “after desksharing of course comes mandatory carpooling,” said someone in our IRC channel moments ago. “And that’s not the worst of it, they’re also assigning seats in the cafeteria…”

“…at today’s EPO the staff got cynical about the so-called “New Ways of Working” (or not getting work done; getting worked, instead).”Those who have experience working on shared desks at work will never claim that it boosted productivity. That’s not what it’s done for. When you get dynamically allocated a desk you need to do a lot of adjustment each and every time (like chair) and if the EPO’s management wants to implement this madness, that should make one wonder what the true motivations are.

“I had that at one job, I was assigned a different desk and chair every 2 months,” one person recalls. “I think they do it so you get to know your colleagues better but it could also be so you don’t form too strong a team or clique… it’s definitely weird.”

Well, some cities do this (even Manchester does this), e.g. with council housing, and they do this for that reason. But the EPO isn’t trying to reduce crime, maybe it just hopes to make it harder to organise (as workers, as colleagues). Both Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos are renowned or notorious for union-busting ambitions.

In any event, at today’s EPO the staff got cynical about the so-called “New Ways of Working” (or not getting work done; getting worked, instead).

Here is what the CSC told colleagues this week:

Munich, 21/06/2022
sc22080cp

What is wrong with hot-desking?

Dear Colleagues,

Many staff members are now used to a certain amount of teleworking. Nevertheless, they also chose to work on the Office’s premises, which is a statutory right1 and remains the default. It is not a favour management would do you depending on “special circumstances”, as it sometimes would like you to believe.

Therefore, staff are entitled to adequate working conditions on site.

On the 1st of September 2022, the New Ways of Working will kick off with the management’s intention to introduce a feature that deeply changes work life: hot-desking2. Your staff representatives have not been involved at any stage so far and we have asked for urgent discussions (see the CSC open letter).

The reflections below are based on what we have understood from meetings management held with some of you, putting the cart before the horse and making announcements before any discussions with the Staff Committee(s).

What is hot-desking?
Interestingly, the Cambridge dictionary defines it this way: a way of saving office space in which workers do not have their own desk and are only given a desk when they need it. Indeed, the idea behind this is not efficiency, well-being or sense of belonging as advertised to staff, but rather a means for the employer to make savings, and not only on office space. The New Ways of Working foresee that only employees working at leas t three days on site will be eligible for an assigned workplace.

When will it enter into force?
Staff is required to make up their mind concerning their preferred working pattern by the end of September and the final floor plans will be made immediately after. This is at least what management currently contemplates.

______
1 See Article 55a(1) ServRegs: “Permanent employees in active employment shall normally perform their work on the Office’s premises.”
2 Bookable hot-desking is sometimes referred to as hoteling.


What is wrong with hot-desking?
First of all, it is hard to think that hot-desking and reinforcement of the sense of belonging combine well together. With hot-desking, you basically belong nowhere. Every time you will need to come to the Office, you will have to book a workplace for the day via a booking tool. Departments and directorates will be allocated a number of floors that will form working “neighbourhoods”. This way, making the booking options limited.

All personal belongings must be removed from your current office, No plants, family photos, no items displaying your individuality. Your allotted locker will soon be the last homely place on offer. You might quickly end up thinking you would rather stay at home since there is no point in finding yourself in this sterile co-working environment where you are never sure where and with whom you sit. Hot-desking simply sends the message that employees don’t matter.

Inefficiency and waste of productive time:
UK statistics3 teach that a hot-desking organisation can spend the equivalent of two weeks each year looking for a desk, or an average of 18 minutes each day thrown into finding an appropriate workspace. We can therefore be sure that a lot of precious working time is going to go into desk chasing and this is totally counterproductive, to say the least. While a small company might find some benefit in hot-desking, for an organisation the size of the Office the disorganisation it provokes can rapidly turn into chaos. There is a major risk that the musical chair exercise may be quickly proven totally inefficient, and the conclusion be a waste of time, energy, and money, before we go back to square one. We can expect that instead of facilitating an agile workforce, to paraphrase management, this is going to seriously impact the productivity and further damage the trust in management.

Has the EPO done any benchmarking on hot-desking? (How Hot-Desking Will Kill Your Company, Forbes, 2019)

Previous negative experience with open space:
As soon as the New Main in The Hague and its open spaces started to be occupied, complaints about noise pollution started pouring in. Many Team Managers (TMs) had a hard time mitigating and accommodating the needs of their team members. Ultimately, doors were placed at the entrance of these areas which is pretty ironic for an open space. It should serve as an indication of how the hot desking is likely to be welcome. EPO core tasks, along with many other jobs in the Office, require peace and quiet. When working less than three days per week on premises, you may have to sit in an open space or shared office, at least according to the current intention of management. The nature of many jobs forbids them to be carried out in open space. If your job requires confidentiality, high concentration or simply spending a lot of time in online meetings, it is not possible for you to sit in an open space.

Absence of consideration for colleagues with special needs:
So far, there is no confirmation that colleagues with special health conditions will receive a different treatment than the rest of staff. It often takes a very long time for these colleagues to find a balance and be able to work at the best of their capacity. It is not acceptable that they would all of a sudden be asked to blend into the crowd.

The two points above alone indicate how the desk lottery is going to carry problematic situations which de facto will require extensive “exception” handling.
______
3 See the publication UK office workers waste ‘almost two weeks’ a year finding somewhere to sit (bmmagazine.co.uk)


Hindering collaboration instead of facilitating it:
Each day, if you are a coach, a trainee or simply someone who needs to speak to a specific colleague or seek for a quick work tip, after you found your own spot, you are going to have to find your interlocutor’s. Playing hide and seek might be fun for a day, but people will quickly get tired. They are less likely to engage in in-person exchanges and keep it to phone, email or chat contact. They will have no interest in exchanging with the people around them as they will likely change regularly, making it more difficult to create social bonds. The result is a permanent situation of teleworking even for those who are on site. Leave a lone brief impromptu meetings that a TM would like to have with his team. This practice simply won’t happen anymore.

Asking staff to massively come back to the Office VS proposing unattractive and hostile work conditions:
On one hand, management would like that you observe the new ways of working and are currently asking all managers to promote coming back to the office. But on the other, after the 19 degrees maximum office temperature (see our publication), and reduced service of canteens, management tries even harder to “attract” staff back to the Office with poor work environment such as hot-desking. In French one would say: “on attrape pas les mouches avec du vinaigre”4. What management really wants is pretty unclear, should you stay home or come back? They seem to be talking both ways at once.

You can safely assume that the Presidential floor will be spared from hot-desking as they do not have that kind of time to waste. After two reorganisations in four years, now a relocation with hot-desking on the way, management’s creativity is endless when it comes to the art of making us run like headless chicken. After all, what better way to prevent people from thinking about what is really important?

Previous failed trial with hot-desking:
Finally, it is interesting to mention that there is already an example of failed hot-desking in the EPO’s history. In 2002, upon opening of the Hinge in The Hague, this work model was imposed on the 11 colleagues housed in the building and working for epoline customer services. After a couple of weeks of turn-over, the colleagues who never found any advantage in this practice, began to pick every day the same desk. End of the experiment.

Your Central Staff Committee

_____________
4 “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

One can conclude that the EPO either wants no staff or desires to get rid of its premises. Either possibility or both possibilities would be in violation of the EPC. They’ve even set up a fake case to make it seem like imposing “webchat” as access to justice is somehow compatible with the law.

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