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WWT CEO Jim Kavanaugh On ‘Likely’ Office Delay, Vaccine Mandate Debate

The CEO of the St. Louis, Mo.-based solution provider says he will likely delay a return to offices for remote employees in the face of the surging COVID-19 delta variant, and while he recommends his employees get the vaccine, he has not yet decided where he stands on a vaccine mandate.

World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh said he will “likely” delay the timeline for when remote workers return to offices and that he is evaluating whether to mandate vaccines for his workforce as the COVID-19 delta variant surges across the world.

In an interview with CRN Tuesday, Kavanaugh said it feels like the St. Louis, Mo.-based solution provider is living in “two different worlds” because of the evolving nature of the pandemic. In one world, he said, the company’s business remains strong in 2021, propped up by customers who are at various stages of their digital transformation initiatives. In the other, the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible delta variant is forcing Kavanaugh to rethink WWT’s office reopening plans and consider a vaccine mandate as he calls employee safety and well-being his “No. 1 priority.”

[Related: Cisco Announces Hybrid Work Option For Every Employee]

“We were looking at bringing our remote workers back in the middle of September,” he said. “I‘m currently revisiting that as we speak based on the ramping up of the [delta] variant and the things that are going on, so that will most likely get pushed out to a yet to be determined date.”

For WWT’s front-line workers, on the other hand, the company continues to “remain very disciplined around safety protocols that we have,” Kavanaugh said. These employees, who constitute the other half of WWT’s workforce, work in logistics facilities, technology labs and integration facilities, “where they have to physically be there to build, rack and stack equipment and move equipment,” he added.

The thornier issue for Kavanaugh is whether to require COVID-19 vaccines for WWT’s employees as some employers, federal agencies and local governments across the country go in that direction.

Kavanaugh said WWT is recommending that employees get vaccinated, but he has not yet decided on whether to make it a requirement.

“We strongly recommend it. We have done everything we can to provide as much access to the vaccine,” he said. “I‘m trying to incent our employees to take the vaccine, but we haven’t mandated, so that’s something we are currently evaluating.”

Kavanaugh said he doesn’t want to be a “front-line leader” on the issue of vaccine mandates because it’s a very “emotionally charged” subject. Instead, he said, his team is taking time to observe what other employers do and see how those situations play out before deciding what is best for WWT.

“It‘s one of the most challenging topics I’ve ever seen in the history of leading, because you have people that I think have gotten so focused and fixated on whatever side of the debate, if you call it, whether supporting taking vaccines or not. I think in a lot of cases it’s gotten so emotional and so political that people are focused on winning the debate and not necessarily getting to the optimal solution, which is what’s best for everybody,” he said.

Kavanaugh said he expects more employers to enact vaccinate mandates as big organizations like United Airlines and the Pentagon establish their own requirements. Tech companies that have enacted vaccine mandates so far include AT&T, Google, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of that happening. And then each company and different cities and counties will have to decide how they’re going to make that decision and what’s in the best interest of their employees and their company,” he said.

What could also change the situation, according to Kavanaugh, is when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants a full approval of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which have only been approved for emergency use so far. He said that will likely prompt more employers to enact vaccine mandates.

“I think that’s going to be another piece that’s going to move organizations to be more aggressive around mandating the vaccine,” he said. “So we have not done it yet. We’re watching. We’re listening, We’re trying to be fast learners on all the different pieces and the changes — there are changes daily. Those are some pieces that we’re watching very, very closely.”

WWT has 7,000 employees, distributed across the U.S., South Korea, Singapore, Japan, India, China, Poland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Brazil and Mexico, according to its website.

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