In June 2022 the EPO announced the project “Bringing Teams Together”, introducing a new management of office space with the aim “to ensure that teams cluster in our buildings when working on site”. The project proved to be a bit challenging since the EPO management simultaneously intended to empty the Pschorrhöfe 1-4 buildings that had heretofore provided office space for more than 1200 employees.

EPO Pschorrhöfe Building

The magic solution to these EPO home-made shortages of office space might appear to be more teleworking, but plausible calculations by the Local Staff Committee of Munich have shown that the result of these closures will be that at least two thirds of the Munich desks will have to be converted into an “office for the day”.

Whether this is the ideal mode of working for examiners is, at least in my view, highly doubtful, but I will not repeat here what I wrote earlier about the EPO’s New Normal. The matter is even further complicated by the fact that the EPO urgently needs more examiners to cope with the increased (and still increasing) number of applications. The current drop in final decisions in examination proceedings (grants or refusals) is indeed worrying, as reported here.

Before this gloomy backdrop it is reassuring to read that humor at the EPO has not been completely lost. The enclosed letter of an anonymous EPO family member is pure gold. Have fun!

Bringing our family together


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  1. For those working at the European Patent Office, the arguments used in “Bringing our family together” are familiar because this is 1:1 the explanation used by EPO management.

    Ironically, the author(s) of that text used official EPO communications and explanations provided to examiners in a nearly verbatim manner for writing that text (just exchanging the EPO setup with family members).

    For comparison, the following text was published as an official EPO communication for EPO employees, in order to justify the move from a fixed office to an office-for-a-day for examiners and further EPO employees (this is really the official explanation / reasoning given to examiners and formalities; this is not a joke!):

    “Bringing our teams together

    Recent years have seen a seismic shift in the way the EPO functions and in how we choose to work. Our buildings must reflect this new reality. This is first and foremost about making use of our premises in a sustainable way. In light of the Office’s commitment to environmental sustainability and the efforts to reduce our energy consumption, it is neither viable nor socially responsible to have large areas of our offices left empty.

    This is why we need to reorganise our workspaces in a more sustainable manner. But these moves have the added benefit of keeping our buildings vibrant and strengthening our sense of belonging by bringing colleagues together. It supports the DG1 transition into technology communities and cross-functional principal directorates. It also gives us the flexibility to adapt to our changing needs.

    Preparations for this reorganisation of workspaces in Munich and The Hague are in full swing. Accommodation plans have been reviewed and as of 25 February, several DG1 units will begin to relocate; the plans for other DGs are to follow in due course

    1. The EPO management will indeed leave the upper floor empty (squeezing the workforce together in the remaining floors), allegedly to save energy.

      Apparently the long-term goal of “Moving teams together” is renting out some of the PschorrHöfe buildings, increasing the already astonishing financial surplus of the EPO even further.

      When the New Career System was introduced, the incentives provided to employees with regard to career progression turned out to be detrimental to the working atmosphere, by creating a competition for artificially limited ressources (colleagues became rivals in the annual competition for resources, without which career progression could no longer take place).

      A similarly divisive approach is now being introduced by the upper management for rooms: While some colleagues are allowed to keep their room, many others lose their rooms (not only those who want to work from home anyway, but also many colleagues who like to work in the office the majority of time). This is again divisive and detrimental for the working atmosphere.

      It is the task of the lower managers (the team managers and the directors) to distribute the available rooms and to decide who will lose their rooms. There is a broken link in the managerial hierarchy: Such decisions are taken by the upper management, which instruct the lower management to implement it. However, upper management ignores any feedback from employees (even from the lower management including directors). Furthermore, lower management was carefully selected. Only those who have an above-average positive view of the situation at the EPO have become team managers or directors.

    2. Any negative effects on the working atmosphere are blamed on the lowest managers. Upper management says that the cause for any discontent is a lack of communication and how the information was presented. According to the EPO’s internal narrative, it is not the decisions which cause the discontent, it is allegedly the fault of the line managers who communicate it wrongly. So according to the EPO it is just a question of communication, not the decisions themselves.

      What is implemented by the upper EPO management is (again) a strategy of “divide and conquer”. First, the available ressources (like career steps or rooms) are artificially limited. Then the employees are made to compete for the artificially limited resources.

    3. As non-managerial employees, we sometimes wonder what the idea behind this could be. We can only guess.

      One evident reason seems to be that limiting the available resources (rooms or career progression) is convenient because it saves money (one could assume that the personal bonuses of the upper management are linked to increasing the profits of the organisation).

      It seems that the idea is also to increase employee performance by letting us employees fight and compete with each other. But at which cost? This kind of cost saving and targeted increase in efficiency is being ruthlessly carried out on our backs.

      Lastly, from an (upper) managerial point of view, creating unrest by artificially depleting the resources available to us employees might potentially also be advantageous in keeping us busy, dividing us and therefore keeping the workforce under control, by applying the “divide and conquer” principle.

      Such an approach comes at the cost of a hostile and toxic working environment for non-managerial staff working at the EPO.

      But as long as the goal is to increase the financial profit even more, this is the perfect approach, isn’t it?

    4. I am an outsider, not working at the EPO and I am generally very supportive of Examiners and the current difficulties they face.

      Having said that, I struggle to see what is so wrong about the letter regarding a change in the use of office space. Yes, maybe it could have been worded better, but the basic concept and premise doesn’t seem so unreasonable. My assumption is that many examiners choose to make extensive use of the ability to work from home, and that this results in many offices being empty on a given day. If this is the case, why is it so wrong for the EPO to consider how to better use the space? Is it because these measures are being applied to a significant extent to examiners who actually use their offices almost every day? I can see why that is counter-productive.

      Maybe I am missing the point, but I am curious and would like to understand better. Can someone enlighten me?

      1. My answer to Curious Observer is that there is of course “nothing wrong” when management changes working practices to accommodate new ways of working that are here to stay. The pandemic has transformed office life also in my firm, and my firm’s management is very active to preserve team spirit, employee motivation and an esprit de corps that will keep our firm competitive in the market even as the rooms in the office building are no longer crowded (because so many hours working are spent out of the office).

        It is different at the EPO though, isn’t it. As far as I can see, the President rules with impunity, as the absolute monarch of the Administrative Council, and his upper management see their role as to maximise profit made out of a Cash Cow, keeping the President’s money bag full to overflowing, thereby to keep the AC members obedient to his wishes (not to mention their own self-interest, in keeping their own yearly bonuses maximised). Unlike my firm, which is mindful of the danger of losing market share and valued clients if the level of service suffers, the EPO has effectively a monopoly and can treat its “clients” with impunity. Shareholder value is the only thing that counts, in today’s EPO. So milk the cash cow for all it’s worth and who cares about survival beyond the next financial year. Heck, we might none of be still with the EPO then, eh?

        Looked at through this prism, as has been increasingly necessary, these past ten years, is it any wonder that, when upper management at the EPO witter on about “bringing teams together”, people react sourly and cynically.

        We all know how valuable prime office space is in Munich, these days, with the likes of both Microsoft and Google investing billions in Munich as the seat of their European operations. No wonder the President wants to clear out as many of the Examiners as he can. It is all a bit Orwellian, don’t you think, the couch these latest asset-sweating plans from the President as “bringing teams together”?

      2. Emptying the office buildings is not based on an assessment of actual need, but on fixed, arbitrary quotas: 50% of employees lose their office. For those 50%, only half the number of previous working places will be available.

        But that does not match with the required number of actual working places: many employees in this group of not having an office any more want to work more than 50% at the office. Furthermore, there is a minimum attendance rule of at least 60 days per year for every employee. And the attendance is not evently distributed between the days of the week or during the year. Therefore, the assigned number of workspaces will create an artificial shortage.

        So if you are one of the 50% losing your office, you have a problem.

        The EPO says they will ensure that you will get a “working place” somewhere in the EPO buildings if you need one. But this “working place” is not necessarily close to your team. It can be anywhere. So welcome to “Bringing Teams Together”.

        So far most of the offices were single offices, whereas many of the new hot desking working places will be in shared rooms. Not ideal for concentrating while your colleague calls the representative of an EPO customer. And what about oral proceedings?

      3. As an EPO employee, with the new hot desking it will become your new responsability to organize a room for yourself every single day. You will have to book it in advance by using a rather challenging piece of room booking software. Of course, you will compete in the room booking with your colleagues. First come, first serve.
        So if you are not sure yet whether you will be in the office on a certain day, would you reserve a room anyway? Or would you refrain from reserving a room, in order to behave in a more collegial manner, risking not getting a place somewhere near your team any more if you try to book a room on a shorter notice?

        The next step will be that you will have to find your room in the EPO buildings (sounds easy, but if you have ever been to the EPO buildings before…) . Then you have to pick all your staff from a locker, set up your working environment, find a chair somewhere, …

        Of course you will be so grateful that you got a room at all, that you will happily do all these small extra organisational steps in your free time.

        Every examiner is informed at the beginning of each calender year of how many products (=grants and searches) he/she will have to deliver within the calendar year. This target significantly increases every year because the EPO software allows for marvelous productivity increases every successive year. Furthermore, all colleagues trying to have some kind of career progression (or at least trying not to get problems at work) compete in outperforming any previous or present targets, ever speeding up the famous collective hamster wheel.

        The extra time spent with moving out of your office and from now on organising a room, setting up the workplace, … every time you come to the office is not being taken into account for the production target. Instead, you will invest this additional time from your personal lifetime. At the same time, you will have to compete with your colleagues to get one of the few remaining rooms.

        So now, if you are one of the 50% not having an allocated office any more, do you think you would still come to the office as much as before? Or would you rather think twice about it?

        I think that for those losing their office, the new hot desking will make it very unattractive to work on the office premises. So those not having an allocated office any more will incentivized to come to the EPO premises less frequently. And then, the upper management will say that the occupancy data shows that nobody wanted to work from the EPO premises anyway, so it was just the right decision…

      4. @Curious Observer.

        Some explanations: Until June 2022 EPO staff was actually strongly advised to work from home because of Covid-19 etc. There was no canteen, no cafeteria and no sports facilities.

        In September 2022 the EPO started to reopen slowly but coming to the Offices was still unattractive. Some corridors left with no light gave the feeling of experiencing the Blair Witch Project. Staff was said that Bringing Teams Together would respect the wishes of everyone and that those willing a fixed office should not worry.

        In December 2022 management decided that the frequency of attendance of staff in the premises from September to December 2022 would now become the criteria for allocating a fixed office. So basically it’s not the future wishes of staff which would be taken into account but the past history of presence over a limited period of time with unattractive EPO building conditions and without prior information.

        VP4 said that staff coming 3 or more days per week would get a fixed office. But in reality she gave a quota of rooms per Directorate which is such than in whole Vienna for instance and in many teams only an attendance of 4 days per week can guarantee a fixed office. Sick staff and part-timers never doing teleworking do not get a fixed office.

        The project is unpopular because management changed its criteria, took staff by surprise, does respect its own rules and gave the project a ridiculous name.

      5. Oh, there are examiners who come to the office every day, even did so during the quaratine times, as they do not have the space at home.
        Yet, they have not been allocated an office, but must go through the motions of booking a room every single day.

        That is not how you treat your employees.

        Yet, the official channels all deny that this is happening and keep reiterating that there are plenty offices available, and everybody who comes often enough will be given a designated office.
        Does management recognise we do talk to each other?
        But no team can meet in office at any time, as there will not be enough room.

  2. This is what happens when one has a workforce by way much more clever than its management

  3. Former PD General Administration was not a fan of the project “Bringing Teams Together”. She could at least do her maths: how can 30 EPO employees share 10 offices-for-the-day when all of them have to come at least two days per week ?

    VP4 then decided to have another PD General Administration.

    “Bringing Teams Together”, the project which is actually preventing a whole team to come together to work.

  4. The upper management of the EPO took pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic to empty the buildings in order to accelerate the digitisation of the procedures.

    If examiners cannot be present in the buildings, OP in first instance have to be exclusively carried out in the form of ViCo. That OP by ViCo would become the norm, not only for examination but also in opposition, was suspected by lots and is now clearly demonstrated. The absence of legal basis allowing divisions of first instance not to sit together when deciding on the fate of an application or of a patent/opposition is superbly ignored by the upper management of the EPO.

    Now under the pretext of sustainability, lots of examiners will have to give up the perspective to have a dedicated office. Without a dedicated office, examiners will be forced to work from home a great part of their time. How this can bring teams together will remain a mystery.

    It simply farcical when the upper management of the EPO claims that it wants to bring teams together when he actually wants to reduce the office space dedicated to examiners. It is really taking examiners for a ride.

    It is nothing new under the EPO that line managers, directors and below, are not doing their work properly when they do not manage to “sell” the wonderful ideas of the upper management to their colleagues. The problem is that the upper management has no clue about the work of an examiner and decides in an apodictic manner how the work has to be done and with which means.

    It is also nothing new under the EPO that the upper management has never realised that examiners are not just morons which can be pushed in whatever direction its finds fit. Examiners have by their studies acquired the same capabilities as those who are deciding in their place. By training, examiners are there to ask questions to compare and weigh arguments. So it should not become as a surprise when examiners are querying management decisions.

    One thing is abundantly clear: if those in charge of the EPO since 2010 would have been in charge in the early days of the EPO, it would never have become the success story it has become.

    It is tragic to see how the EPO is willingly run in the wall by would be managers. They are not even managers, and they are certainly not leaders which inspire and enthusiast their staff. In any company which would have to survive on the market, they would have been fired a long time ago. And here we come to the next tragedy: the AC has given up its controlling function.

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