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Archived - In the fight against COVID-19, Anne Irwin is deploying technology to help keep staff safe

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April 8, 2020
Feature Stories

With the arrival of COVID-19, the message was clear. Anyone who can work from home should do so immediately, if not sooner. For Anne Irwin and her team, that has meant a hectic few weeks. Anne works in the City of Ottawa’s IT Services Department, and she’s been on a mission to get staff whose work is critical to the City’s response to COVID-19 the technology they need to work from home.

A woman sitting at an office workstation.
The arrival of COVID-19 meant busy times in the City of Ottawa’s IT department. First order of business was getting front-line employees set up to work from home.

What’s it like at work these days?

The last three weeks were incredibly busy. There are a lot of City employees who are already set up to work from home, so when the directive came in to work from home, we were focusing on the people whose jobs are crucial to the City’s response to the outbreak.

In a matter of days, we equipped around 100 staff from Ottawa Public Health to work from home, and within a week we did the same for around 450 people who work in the Community and Social Services Department.

These are people who work with folks who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, like the elderly, for example, so getting them set up quickly was the priority.

We hear a lot of about supply and demand issues when it comes to medical and personal protective equipment. Are you running into any supply chain issues?

So much IT equipment is sourced from China, so we were thinking about that early on, when China was really the epicentre of the outbreak. I’ve worked through a lot of other emergencies, like H1N1 and the major floods, so when the news about COVID-19 was intensifying in January and February, that set off alarm bells and my team and I started planning ahead.

A woman in an office standing next to a stack of cardboard boxes.
By loaning out laptops and smartphones, Anne Irwin and her team are helping staff get set up to work from home.

Is anything hard to come by right now?

If you have a headset, consider yourself lucky! They are really in demand and incredibly difficult to find.

Any tips for people getting used to working remotely?

Even if you’re working from home it’s still really important to sanitize your workstation and your equipment. Some of it is obvious, like your keyboard or anything with a touch screen, but it’s good to get into the habit of cleaning everything – your desk, your mouse, the armrests of your chair and especially those headsets. I even wipe down my pen!

You’re still working in the office. What’s that like?

We’ve got a small team working in the office because we do have to physically configure the hardware, and when people come to pick up their phone or computer, we have to get them logged on to the network once before they go home. All the equipment gets sanitized after each of those two steps.

We’ve got the area where staff come to pick up equipment set up in a way that keeps people spaced apart.

What’s the best part of the work these days?

The work I’m doing is all about letting staff stay home and stay healthy while on the job. What could be better than that?

How are you keeping yourself entertained at home while following physical distancing rules?

We have some home improvement projects on the go right now, so there’s no shortage of things to do around the house! We’re repainting and replacing some carpeting. It’s a nice counterbalance to being immersed in technology all day at work.

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