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Stepping up to the Covid Challenge - Part I

TEC services have never worked harder to keep service users and staff safe since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. We spoke to a number of key providers, large and small, about their fight against this unknown virus and the innovations that are emerging.

“We have a life critical workforce that underpins health and social care services – if we go down, those services go down.” Rupert Lawrence, head of amica24 is passionate about the role TEC can play in tackling coronavirus. His team of call handlers, responders and installers have been working relentlessly to make sure the vulnerable individuals they support continue to receive the same standard of care.


It’s a similar story over in Burton-on-Trent where marketing manager Phil McComish describes how the different teams at First Call, which is part of Trent & Dove housing association, are all pulling together. “Everyone helps, even the management team. If we’re needed, then we down tools and take calls. We’re all supporting each other to ensure that First Call runs safely and effectively.”


The Lifeline service provided by East Riding of Yorkshire Council has been focusing on business continuity too. “We have a mobile option for our monitoring centre operators to work from home in the case of staff shortages,” explains Lifeline manager, Joanne Rosser. “We’re planning on continuing to have as many of the staff on site, splitting the shifts to keep staff operational as long as possible.”


Hammad Butt, team manager for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s Careline service has been collaborating with council colleagues and suppliers to ensure their monitoring connections are managed safely. “We’ve quickly acquired the laptops and mobiles we need for homeworking and the servers are in the process of being configured.”


Over in Essex, Mark Westall, head of customer and commercial services at Tendring District Council has put a range of measures in place to maintain stability. “We’ve set up a second room where people can handle calls whilst keeping a distance. Operatives with vulnerable relatives can handle calls in the upstairs rooms.”


These are just some of the ways that TEC providers are adapting, innovating and trouble-shooting in the current crisis. In our first instalment of a two-part series we ask how services are coping with staff shortages, homeworking and keeping the workforce safe.


How are TEC services managing homeworking, staff shortages and employee safety?

(Clockwise from top left:) Hammad Butt, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham; Heather Flower, East Riding of Yorkshire Council; Rupert Lawrence, head of amica24; Phil McComish,Trent & Dove Housing; Joanne Rosser, East Riding of Yorkshire Council; Mark Westall, Tendring District Council.

How are you dealing with staff shortages?

Hammad Butt: Our Disaster Recovery partner is Tower Hamlets Council who, like us, have a small team delivering a service to residents. An agreement has been made by both parties to share resources during this period to cope with any staff shortages.
Samantha Feather: It may be requested that former Lifeline employees who now work in other parts of the council will be drafted in to work for Lifeline, as and when needed. We are using agile learning to train up these staff quickly and effectively – for example, training potential responders with Raizer lifting chair training packs, videos and competency checks.


Phil McComish: A few staff members have had to self-isolate…. but we are fortunate to have permanent members of staff plus a bank of relief staff. This means they can cover different shifts.


Hammad Butt: Recently, I have been advertising for full time staff and while that was happening, I trained agency workers on call handling. This extra, trained support will be really helpful. It means that if an officer goes into self-isolation, we have adequate staffing levels to meet our KPIs.


Rupert Lawrence: Because we are a contact centre for the whole housing group, we have telecare and housing enquiries coming into the same environment. Now we’ve scaled back on our repairs service due to COVID-19, we’ve freed up extra resourcing. These staff members have been quickly trained and they are now supplementing our contact centre workforce.


Tell us about your measures to keep staff safe?

Mark Westall: In terms of infection control, we’re keeping our mobile responders away from our call handlers. Mobile responders will pick up their work from a specific room – not the control centre. If they bring in reclaimed equipment it goes into a designated room where it is decontaminated first and then given a deep clean.


Rupert Lawrence: Anyone who can work remotely has now left the building and we’ve increased fob access arrangements for our contact centre to reduce foot flow and cut the risk of infection. We’ve also initiated social distancing within the contact centre - and we’re keen to have testing kits so all our staff can be tested easily.


Phil McComish: First Call is part of a housing association called Trent & Dove and they have increased cleaning regimes significantly in our building…. We have four workstations where people handle calls – we’re only a small contact centre – and we’ve moved these, so everyone is working two metres apart. All handovers between staff members are managed carefully and in line with social distancing guidance. We’ve also been really vigilant with anti-bacterial spray, gloves and masks for staff members in the office.


Hammad Butt: We have done a big review with staff, providing information and guidance on best hygiene practices to minimise the risk of infection.


Rupert Lawrence: We have had staff affected and staff members who are self-isolating – and we’ve done a number of things to mitigate the risk. The first stage was around our facilities such as our contact centre. We’ve initiated increased cleaning regimes and we’ve created a lockdown to make the environment more secure and protect cleanliness.


Samantha Feather: Our responder staff have been given personal protective equipment and they will still go to call-outs but they will work from home, rather than from our six bases. This means that after a call-out they can go home, get themselves clean and ready for another call-out. They can also do any updates over the phone, rather than in someone’s home.


Rupert Lawrence: We have a secondary location that we can call handle from and this has been prepared and checked and given a deep clean as per our business continuity plan. The site has now been locked off so people can’t get in there at all. If we had an infection within our workforce, we could move quickly to our secondary location. We have a deep clean arrangement for our main site if that happened.


What about homeworking?

Joanne Rosser: We’ve been working hard for the last two years on ensuring that our staff can work remotely. Some of the things we have implemented to help this current situation have been part of our next step and part of our business continuity planning, so we can cover all eventualities.


Rupert Lawrence: Working from home is possible for some staff members – for example if staff are self-isolating, they can continue with outbound proactive calling. However, we feel that people taking inbound calls in our contact centre need to be within the telecare environment. Having the team in one area enables them to communicate effectively and it helps us to manage and supervise the inbound calls.


Hammad Butt: Homeworking is a big priority for Careline. It may take 6-8 weeks to set up. It’s not a quick fix but it’s really important we get homeworking in place and we do it right.


We want to hear from you. Tell us how your TEC service is supporting service users and staff during the #coronavirusoutbreak – email with your experiences.





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