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NEWS | Aug. 7, 2020

Feedback Fridays

By Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller 502d Air Base Wing Commander

Feedback Fridays is a weekly forum that aims to connect the 502d Air Base Wing with members of the Joint Base San Antonio community. Questions are collected during commander’s calls, town hall meetings and throughout the week.

If you have a question or concern, please send an email to jbsapublicaffairs@gmail.com using the subject line “Feedback Fridays.” Questions will be further researched and published as information becomes available.

Q. The Air Force has purchased the infrastructure for telework. The technology is there to completely move the office to the home environment including network access and office phone call forwarding.

Simply put, from home, individuals can access the network and receive calls from office numbers as an individual or as a group. For example through infrastructures such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) servers and Cisco applications you can receive office calls on your computer or cell phone.

However, what is lacking today is implementation. Most of these technologies are not implemented at the unit/department level. There seems to be no formal program pushing for it or any standard of implementation.

I believe we are losing productivity and talent by not implementing these modern and innovative solutions. It’s also a waste of taxpayer funds because many of these technologies are already paid for by the Air Force. Additionally, implementing these technologies will increase disaster readiness and better position leaders, such as yourself, to shape the workforce in a way that can meet mission requirements.

Today some people say they “telework,” but because of limited capabilities really they are just going home. Productivity is suffering. It’s not teleworking if you only have access to a commercial network, your cell phone, and some mix of unsecured (unofficial) collaboration applications such as Google Hangouts and Slack. This is watered-down telework.

For it to be telework you need to have access to AFNET, the office phone, and all of the applications we use such as Outlook email or can use such Cisco Jabber/Microsoft Teams. That should be the minimum standard.

It is important that we use these applications because they maintain records, integrity and transparency. These are lost when a watered-down version of “telework” is used. Telework isn’t a day off. You should be just as productive, if not more. If personnel are properly set up, that should be the expectation.

Today, those who are lucky get a laptop and are set up for VPN access by the 502d Communications Squadron. However, they still lack capabilities such as access to shared drives or office phones. Again all of this and more can be set up on those same laptops. Additionally, departments may not have plans or procedures which are adapted to working from home. This happens because there isn’t a standard for integration.

My suggestion is to consider implementing a unit telework program that enhances readiness across all levels. This program should contain requirements/standards for implementers (IT staff) and customers in order to create a more flexible/scale-able workforce for a 21st century Air Force.

This program could require that the communications squadron implement these technologies to a standard that fully creates the office at home. This should be a standard that is based on the customer’s telework requirements and the minimum standards mentioned above. I think this would go a long way to modernize the 502d ABW. However, it’s not just on the 502d Communications Squadron.

Part of the program should also require leaders at the unit/department/flight level to create teleworker quotas and if needed to modify procedures/workflows for telework.

Preferably teleworking should be fully integrated and a regular part of every office. This could include designating some combination of telework shifts, days or personnel. At a minimum, telework capability should be drilled and practiced periodically in order to minimize any confusion when it is needed for an emergency.

In the implementation, there are some issues that would need to be addressed by supervisors these include fairness and oversight. There will be obstacles such as resistance to change and lack of experience by both implementers (IT staff) and customers. However, these can be overcome by adopting a software deployment model that is gradual, phased, and cyclical and is customer service-oriented for those users who aren’t technical.

In conclusion, the Air Force has the technology to implement telework, but this capability is under implemented and underutilized. I think improving this capability will help retain talent while increasing productivity and unit readiness.

The current pandemic can be a catalyst for positive change in the workforce. This is an opportunity to look at how we work and identify how telework can fit in the Air Force office environment. It is an opportunity to assess workflows and procedures to identify where we can increase efficiency and morale through telework.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Good luck and welcome to San Antonio, ma’am.

A. Thank you for your question.

When this pandemic initially affected JBSA, the Air Force only had the ability to support 9,000 concurrent users via remote access using one client application.

The cyber and communications career fields did an incredible job fielding two new client applications and expanding remote capabilities in record time – we can now support more than 400K remote users today across the Air Force!

Additionally, they fielded a Microsoft Teams capability using Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) that allows teleworkers to collaborate from your home computers (or your work computers via the web), to remain highly productive. This includes email, Office tools, voice, and video conferencing. The Army’s Network Enterprise Center offers similar capabilities.

However, one communications capability that was hit very hard across the DOD was the ability to support off-installation telephone service, including forwarding telephone calls or hosting large conference lines.

Although we have upgraded some our JBSA legacy voice capabilities to a newer network-based voice service, it does not yet exist at all locations, and where it does exist, it is not yet at full capability and the 502d Communications Squadron is still working through technical/architectural network issues for operating remotely.

This network-based voice service works well on-installation, but we have encountered issues when it comes to supporting remote users who are no longer directly connected to the base network and now connect remotely via the Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

As telework continues to increase throughout JBSA, every organization continues to re-assess its shortfalls which we will take into account for continued planning. The communications squadron is looking into the future and has identified a need for increased network-based voice service in an attempt to catch-up with the JBSA demand.

The 502d Communications Squadron and Enterprise Services continue to work tirelessly to improve capabilities so we can support our teleworking workforce in being more productive when not in their on-installation workplace; we appreciate your input and patience as we all work through this together.

Q. I would like to make a suggestion and very much appreciate your time and consideration. My son recently graduated from tech school for security forces. I am quite impressed by how well he is doing, particularly under the circumstances.

I do, however, see a potential mental health issue with the Airmen. I think it has been very tough on them to be isolated from family. I think it is one thing to mentally be prepared for leaving your home and family for two months. It’s different to prepare for leaving for 18 months. My son will be going to Turkey for his first duty station.

My suggestion is to allow these Airmen to go home for a week or two before they fly to their first duty station, especially in cases like my son who is going to a closed base overseas. They will be in quarantine at their next base, so they will not put others at risk for COVID-19 there.

I am very thankful that the Air Force has taken such good care of my son. Thank you for your service and especially hard work during these last few months. Thanks again for your time.

A. Thank you for reaching out and providing us this suggestion. We completely understand that we are not under normal circumstances during this pandemic. Mental health concerns are something we take very seriously with our Airmen.

For this reason, we opened up basic military training to allow trainees to have a weekly call home. Additionally, Airmen generally will have the opportunity to communicate with their loved ones daily at technical training.

As for taking leave and follow-on assignments, each Airman has a unique situation and is encouraged to communicate with their chain of command directly to determine what works best for their situation.

Thank you again for your feedback and we are very pleased to hear that your son is doing well and that you are impressed with the top-notch training that is provided by our teammates at the 343rd Training Squadron.