Friday, January 23, 2009

Telecommuting Pittsburgh

The best of both worlds would be a Pittsburgh residence and a Washington, DC job. The migration numbers support this perception. The following anecdote is representative of the tremendous potential for this particular co-location:

[Capt. James 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.

I see a similar dynamic playing out in the Front Range of Colorado. California real estate refugees are relocating their fat salaries to less expensive communities such as Fort Collins. They maintain their tech jobs in the Bay Area while reaping the benefits of a substantially lower cost of living and a much higher quality of life.

A smart career strategy is to target occupations that lend themselves to geographic mobility and telecommuting. You start out in hot job markets where housing prices tend to be high. For the next stage, you can choose where you would most like to live.

Pittsburgh is a good place to head, especially if you cut your teeth in the DC market. Salaries are lower, giving your big city salary more purchasing power. My wife recently secured the ability to transfer her Denver wages to her hometown of Pittsburgh. This frees me up to pursue aggressively a Pittsburgh job as if I am a resident of the region. I could start next week, if need be.

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