Pioneering a home-based command
- By John Moore
- Jan 26, 2009
Capt. James Oakes has moved roughly every two years during his 36-year Navy career. Although he said he enjoys the travel, he also knew it was getting time for his family to put down some roots.
That wasn’t going to be easy, though.
Oakes was commanding officer for a Navy recruiting district based in Pittsburgh when, three years ago, the Navy requested him to move to Washington, D.C. He was to become chief of staff for N1, the Navy’s manpower and personnel organization under the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. His boss would be the chief of Navy personnel.
He made the switch, but his family stayed in Pittsburgh. “My family was firmly established, and I didn’t want to put [them] through the hassle of another move,” he said.
When the Navy launched a pilot program called Virtual Command, Oakes perked up his ears. Geared specifically toward officers, the program turns several postings in N1 into work-from-home positions.
Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, the chief of naval personnel, asked Oakes if he wanted to participate in the pilot program and help get it moving. Oakes said the opportunity met his dual objective of focusing on his family’s needs while still maintaining a career.
Oakes is the first officer to participate in the program. He works out of a home office in suburban Pittsburgh, and his duty station is at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va.“It is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on in a long time,” Oakes said of the program, which launched in December.
Employees like Oakes benefit from the work/life balance. The Navy, meanwhile, avoids the expense of moving officers and their families in permanent-change-ofstation transfers. The Navy can also save on the cost of housing allowances, Oakes noted, if the real estate market in the telework site is less expensive than the duty station’s market.
Oakes stays in touch with a cell phone and laptop that has a virtual private network connection to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. He uses general-purpose office tools — Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, for example — in addition to applications more specific to his personnel management job, in which he oversees 15 personnel. Those tools include Taskers, a Web-based system that delivers tasks from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to the appropriate action officer.
In addition, Oakes can access the Standard Labor Data Collection and Distribution Application, which he uses to certify civilian employee time and attendance and approve leaves.
Oakes also has collaboration tools at his disposal. He conducts meetings through Defense Connect Online, which provides Web conferencing through Adobe and instant messaging via Jabber.
Oakes said he uses DCO to brief N1 senior leaders and conduct monthly commander meetings.
Oakes said he is looking to fill additional spots in the Virtual Command program.
Those openings range from career development to Web products support.
“We’re looking for volunteers,” he said.
John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.