Dr Lisa Ackerley

Business continuity in the face of a global pandemic

Interviewed with Dr Lisa Ackerley, Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner

As the UK comes to terms with the likelihood that the coronavirus, Covid-19, is set to spread widely across the UK, it’s time to assess how your business will cope in the event of significant disruption.


At Contact Centre Panel, we’re acutely aware of the value of a robust Business Continuity Plan. We have a number of members on our network that specialise in the rapid deployment of customer service agents to help businesses react to unforeseen business disruptions. Coronavirus might stretch the resources of the sector though, so it’s vital that your business has plans in place to deal with the potential effects of this illness.

In an article published by the BBC, on 3rd March 2020, the government estimates that “up to a fifth of the UK workforce might be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus in the UK”. This is a sobering prediction for any organisation running a significant customer service operation.

With this in mind, we have interviewed a leading expert within the field, Dr Lisa Ackerley, Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, Trustee of the RSPH and adviser to UKHospitality, to get her advice on the Coronavirus, its potential impact on the workplace and the types of control measures that should be put in place to avoid spread. Dr Lisa started by saying: “The symptoms are like flu but this is behaving much more like what we would call pandemic flu which is why we need to take more action now.  Because there is no vaccine at the moment, there is no immunity in the community, making this more serious than standard seasonal influenza.

What about your workforce?

In a communication from the Government[1], the effect on the workforce was mentioned: “Given that the data is still emerging, we are uncertain of the impact of an outbreak on business. In a stretching scenario, it is possible that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks. This may vary for individual businesses.”

So far, it seems that elderly people or those with underlying illnesses are the most at risk of suffering seriously and needing hospitalisation after being infected. It is thought that many people will suffer mild symptoms, but of course could still transmit the illness.

Although talk of mortality rates is alarming, so far, the effect on most groups except the elderly has been much less severe. Sickness is expected, though, which will almost certainly affect the workplace, as will self-isolation which could keep individuals at home for many weeks.

What will your organisation do?

In the event of a significant disruption to your business, what plans are in place to meet your customer service needs? Many businesses are reviewing their Business Continuity/Disaster Plans in the light of the coronavirus outbreak and although only 51 people in the UK are confirmed infected as we write this article, estimates by scientists from 60% to 80% of the population catching the virus make worrying reading. Thankfully, many of these infections will be minor but clearly there is a real and present danger that operations will be impacted.

For many organisations, outsourcing to meet customer service demand will be an option. If you have not explored this yet, now might be the time to evaluate potential partners. Contact Centre Panel can help you with this process. It’s at the heart of what we’ve always done.

What can you do now to minimise disruption at work?

Dr Lisa Ackerley offered the following advice:

“The important thing is that we all wash our hands or use a hand sanitiser not only regularly but at the right time… In particular I refer to “ – this means when you arrive home, for example, or when you arrive at work; at these points, that’s where you’ve got really good benefit because you are not bringing micro-organisms such as viruses or bacteria into your home or work. Also encourage people to wash their hands before leaving home and before leaving work, to help reduce spread in public places.

At work, this might mean making hand sanitisers available to all employees and visitors (on the reception desk) and providing signs to point the way to the nearest washbasin, and thus encouraging handwashing as soon as people enter the building. You really want everyone to have clean hands before they get through to the main workplace. Make sure that the washbasins are cleaned frequently – depending on use, but checked hourly, and have soap and drying facilities for thorough hand washing. If you have a security system to enter the building, then this is a good place to offer hand sanitiser.

Dr Lisa says “When washing your hands, wet them first[2] and then apply soap. Rub the soap in your palms to get the lather going and use the lather to scrub your nails in the palm of your hand, wash your thumbs, in between your fingers and the top of your hands. Then rinse and rub the soap off under running water and the germs will go down the sink. The rubbing action is very important. This video shows you how: https://youtu.be/LGasejm3_9c. The whole process should take 20 seconds. (The video is slower to demonstrate).

If you can’t get to a washbasin easily, the next best thing is a hand sanitiser, and generally speaking, the higher the alcohol content in the hand gel, the better. Current advice is that sanitiser should have an alcohol content of over 62%. Hand washing and hand sanitising won’t protect you from picking up viruses later on, so you need to be always aware that if your hands are dirty you want to keep them out of your face… in particular, stop rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth. You can carry hand gel with you because that’s a really good way to keep your hands safe as you’re travelling.

Dr Lisa explains what to do if hot desking “I have a packet of antibacterial wipes that have anti-viral properties as well, and I will actually wipe down the work area including equipment such as keyboards, mouse and phone. This is important because during the day we could inadvertently touch our faces many times whilst we are concentrating on work. The same applies to business travel – clean around your seat area and tray before setting up your laptop, and of course, sanitise your hands at this point.”

For the daily clean, ensure that cleaners are using disposable cloths or paper towels and are using sanitisers on hand touchpoints such as door handles. Additional cleaning during the day around high use and high touch point areas would not go amiss.

If anyone develops symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath, then they need to stay at home and dial 111 for more information.

“If you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, get a tissue ready to catch it, or failing that use the crook of your arm, and don’t spray everyone! Tissues need to be single use and binned responsibly – don’t leave them on office surfaces. Wash your hands after using a tissue or use a hand sanitiser”.

To help slow down the transmission of Covid-19 and all viral illnesses, we need to follow government advice as it emerges, but office hygiene and cleanliness is the simplest and most cost-effective method at work. This global issue is a reminder that practising good health and hygiene is good business.

Do you need to evaluate your options?

If your business doesn’t have a plan to deal with the risk of major disruption to your customer service provision, get in touch. At Contact Centre Panel, we can match your business needs to our network of specialist crisis management outsourced contacts centres, to find the right match and give you peace of mind.  If you need help either call us on 0114 209 6120 or email hello@contactcentrepanel.com

For official advice on Coronavirus

If you need an updated national picture from the UK Government, find the advice given by Public Health England.


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/869827/Coronavirus_action_plan_-_a_guide_to_what_you_can_expect_across_the_UK.pdf

[2] Water temperature doesn’t play a part in killing germs – just have it so it is comfortable. Mixer taps are best as you can control the temperature. If water is too hot, people won’t wash their hands.