The National Research Council empties buildings across Canada

Some 90% of the National Research Council’s nearly 4,000 employees are now working from home, an unprecedented move sparked by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Staff at the NRC’s 22 facilities across Canada were advised March 15 to telework until further notice, unless needed on site for critical tasks.

“It was an immense organizational and logistical challenge. Our IT people spent that whole weekend working with Shared Services Canada to access more VPN [virtual private network] licences. We rounded up all the computers and cell phones we could,” NRC president Iain Stewart told Research Money.

A call centre staffed with IT specialists was set up to help workers connect remotely. “By Wednesday [March 18], 70% of staff were off site. By Friday we were over 80%,” says Stewart.

“By the next week [starting March 23], we focused completely on establishing regular staff meetings, supervisor/colleague meetings and began to take stock of what we could do virtually and not. By Friday, 90% of staff was working virtually at home, with the remaining 10% doing security and environmental functions, and things like changing samples in machines that are accessed remotely and rebooting computers.”

Stewart is splitting his time between the office and his home (where he has been sharing an overloaded Wi-Fi network with his wife and two sons), conducting teleconferences with management and research teams.

“If this goes on for more than a month, we will have to rethink how we do research.” For now, Stewart says they “have enough to work on,” with at-home researchers spending a lot of their time on data analysis and research writing.

If a company partner needs to physically come to an NRC building, physical distancing is the rule. “There’s can’t be more than two people in a room. We’re trying to keep numbers down,” he says.

As of March 30, Stewart says the NRC had not recorded a single case of COVID-19 among its staff.