Serving the Northwest from afar

By Hannah MitchellMarch 11, 2024

Gabrielle Marucci
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Gabrielle Marucci at her desk, where she serves the Walla Walla District remotely from Florida. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
Jason Buchanan
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Jason Buchanan at his desk, where he serves the Walla Walla District remotely from Missouri. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Every day, Gabrielle Marucci sits down at her desk and logs into her computer, checking her email and meeting schedule. Her desk sits next to a window and, outside, one might expect to see scenery indicative of the Pacific Northwest. Marucci, after all, works for the Walla Walla District, located in the state of Washington.

However, the view outside tells a very different story, betraying the much sunnier climate of Florida.

Marucci works as a project controls specialist for the Walla Walla District, but she works as a remote employee, serving the Pacific Northwest from the Southeast corner of the country.

“My husband is an Army Engineer and I heard good things about the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] mission and culture from some of his colleagues. The position description, plus the fact that it was remote was what led me to apply,” Marucci said.

She and her husband are currently stationed in U.S. Southern Command in Florida after moving from his previous station in Germany.

Marucci is not the only Walla Walla District employee to work remotely. The district has about 40 remote positions. In fact, according to the results of the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, about 14% of U.S. federal employees have remote work agreements.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s 2021 Guide to Telework and Remote Work in the Federal Government defines remote work as “an alternative work arrangement that involves an employee performing their official duties at an approved alternative worksite away from an agency worksite, without regularly returning to the agency worksite during each pay period.” In short, remote employees may live too far to come into the office and may only communicate with their boss and coworkers through the conduits of technology.

Jason Buchanan is another Walla Walla District employee with a remote work agreement. He worked for the district in Electrical Design before becoming a project manager. In 2022 he decided to move to Missouri to be closer to family. After talking with his supervisor, he learned about the option to work remotely instead of trying to transfer to a different USACE district or find another job.

“I believe I am more efficient than in the office setting,” Buchanan said about working remotely. “I’m able to focus on tasks at hand without interruptions at my desk, which leads to better productivity for delivering the mission. I am able to work regardless of road conditions or weather issues.”

According to OPM, remote work “can provide organizations with a competitive advantage in recruiting new talent and help prevent the loss of valued employees who need to move away from the agency worksite for personal reasons.” The Walla Walla District has certainly benefitted from these types of agreements, as it has made certain positions easier to fill.

And a remote work agreement benefits not only the organization, but the individual as well.

“Less time commuting means more quality time with my family,” Buchanan said. “I also believe it reduces the chances of getting sick.”

Of course, that isn’t to say remote work is without its challenges. Being so far removed from coworkers can make it difficult to form connections. Communication is reliant on internet access and technology that may or may not be working.

“I’ve had storms take out power in my neighborhood which kept me from connecting for a few hours,” Marucci said. “I think I would have learned some aspects of my position faster had I been in an office setting, but I am fortunate to be on a team that is so helpful and willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me via calls and screenshares.”

Remote work isn’t for everyone, but for some people it can open doors that were previously unreachable.

“For me, the biggest benefit of working remote is the opportunity for continuity,” Marucci said. “As a military spouse, I don’t have any control over when or where we move. In the last 10 years, I’ve had eight addresses …. My resume is eclectic and not always in a great way. The ability to work remotely and maintain a position through our moves is something I would have never imagined as a possibility even just five years ago. However, it’s something that has an incredible positive impact on my career and my family.”

Remote work is just one way that the federal workforce is evolving to meet the challenges of the future. The Walla Walla District will continue to find innovative ways to deliver its mission to serve the Snake River Basin and the nation.