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Partners Debate COVID-19 Mandates as Virus Impacts Channel Events

The challenging decisions come as COVID-19 starts to take its toll again on channel events.

Allison Francis

August 4, 2021

10 Min Read
COVID vaccine
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As we watch vaccination conversations play out in the industry, a lot of attention has focused on partners and vendors; particularly, what they’re doing in terms of COVID-19 mandates. Are offices reopening to all? For those that do, should they require employees to get vaccinated?

Though many companies have historically encouraged – rather than required – vaccinations, a rising number of COVID-19 cases and the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant has led to a shift in thinking among some corporate leaders. That’s according to Francine Katsoudas, Cisco’s head of human resources, the Wall Street Journal reported.

To Mandate or Not to Mandate

It is a nearly impossible situation, and a very tough judgment call for partners. You want to protect your employees, while simultaneously trying to respect everyone’s perspective and choice surrounding the vaccine. Setting expectations for employees with a variety of backgrounds and factors can ring true to the expression “between a rock and a hard place.”

What companies are doing in terms of mandating has been the cause of some controversy within the channel. Whether it’s returning to the office, requiring employees to be vaccinated, whether to mandate masks at conferences and events, leaders are very much on both sides of the fence. 

All in Favor?

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DLC Technology’s Darren Crane

“We are not requiring a mask; however, employees are encouraged to show proof of vaccination,” said Darren Crane, president of DLC Technology (No. 477 on the Channel Futures 2021 MSP 501).

“Once proof is shown, the employee is permitted to remove their mask while in the office. When on customer sites, we default to wearing a mask (regardless of vaccination status) unless the customer’s requirements are different (we always defer to the requirements of the customer).

“Our office is open every day as a hoteling space, with most staff using a hybrid work-from-home model,” Crane went on to say. “This means that employees whose role allows them to work remotely full-time are doing so, and others are in the office on a set schedule a few days per week. We only have one person in the office full-time, since they are new and still going through training and orientation. Our go-forward plans are to have support staff in the office full-time at some point, with consultative and administrative staff working from home about half of the time. Customers are also wanting to meet with us in person again, so our conference room remains open and available for meetings as needed.”

Mike Carter, CEO of eGroup (No. 475 on the Channel Futures 2021 MSP 501), shared with us his company’s modified COVID-19 policy in light of recent delta variant concerns.  

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eGroup’s Mike Carter

“We have been working with outside HR counsel to put this together and will continue to follow CDC and epidemiology guidelines regarding the delta variant while also paying close attention to the lambda variant which appears to have some level of vaccine resistance,” said Carter.

 

  • We are denying access to eGroup, partner and customer offices for any team member who has not provided prior proof of vaccination. Masking rules as previously communicated are in effect for vaccinated people within all indoor common office areas.

  • We are denying travel and in-person events for any team member who has not provided prior proof of vax and sought approval for in-person travel/events — this includes expense reimbursement of any kind.

  • Out of an abundance of caution, any sales or delivery team member who is going on-site for customer visits or customer work must provide proof of vaccine. We urge you to wear mask while travelling and onsite with partners and customers.

  • If you have a legitimate medical reason to not get the vaccine, you must provide proof from two separate doctors (general and a specialist in the related condition that prevents you from receiving) and you must continue to work remote[ly] 100% until such time you are either able to receive the vaccine, or the CDC communicates significant herd immunity to eliminate your risk, or risk to others.

  • If you do not have a legitimate medical reason to get the vaccine, you must continue to work remote with no in-person contact with eGroup, customer or partners until such time the CDC communicates significant herd immunity to eliminate your risk, or risk to others. No travel will be approved.

Not in Favor

On the flip side, some shops are against any sort of COVID-19 mandates.

“We are not in favor of heavy-handed government tactics …

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Security On-Demand’s Peter Bybee

… to push private employers to mandate vaccines for employees,” said Peter Bybee, CEO, Security On-Demand (No. 11 on the Channel Futures 2021 MSP 501). “This is a matter of personal health choice, and we view this as government interference in personal freedom for citizens to make personal health decisions. We think that this approach would not only unfairly ostracize employees, but put them in the difficult position of taking what they perceive as a personal medical risk in order to keep their job. Nothing good can come of this approach. It creates anxiety and stress in the workplace, is destructive to morale, and will ultimately drive good employees to seek jobs elsewhere.”

Mike Bazar, CEO of Bazar Solutions, Inc. (No. 501 on the Channel Futures 2021 MSP 501), also isn’t keen on COVID-19 mandates.

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Bazar Solutions’ Mike Bazar

“For our company, we are working in the office again and have been for a while. We have told all staff if they feel sick at all they should work from home until they feel better and/or know it’s not COVID-19. [Bazar Solutions] won’t have any mandates around the vaccine. We have not, and will not require vaccinations. [Our company has] encouraged any staff to get vaccinated if they want it and allow them to take time off if required (either to get the shot or if they feel bad after the shot). Our COVID policy is to follow our clients policies — if they require masks onsite, then wear a mask; if they don’t, then we typically don’t. As for our clients — we are supporting them anyway we can, including work from home.”

Others have cited possible legal ramifications within the industry.

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ReachOut Technology’s Rick Jordan

“I believe this will end up being a personal choice down to the leadership of each MSP,” said Rick Jordan CEO of ReachOut Technology (No. 47 on the Channel Futures 2021 MSP 501). “However, it’s very shaky legal ground right now. Yes, big tech is imposing vaccine requirements, and they could have determined that it’s less of a financial and legal liability for them, at this moment, than dealing with the potential reputation liability of a COVID outbreak within their offices. Really, it all comes down to money. Bigger firms have greater risk than smaller MSPs. I think we’ll see the big ones lean toward vaccine mandates, and the smaller shy away … for now.”

As the country and the channel attempt to open up amid some setbacks driven by the delta variant, the spread of coronavirus at live events is also a reality. Telarus, following last week’s Partner Summit, confirmed on Wednesday that of the nearly 1,000 attendees, some reported back to the company that they have COVID-19.

Included in a post-event survey, Telarus informed attendees: “We have been notified by people who have tested positive this week. Those who were vaccinated have mild symptoms. Those who were not vaccinated have mild to moderate symptoms.” Channel Futures, which covered the event, has talked with attendees this week who either knew of other participants who had tested positive or were feeling symptoms and were considering getting tested themselves.

We reached out to Telarus regarding COVID-19 mandates, and they told Channel Futures that it followed all state and local guidelines — which didn’t include a mask mandate or any proof of vaccination. 

The company recommends that attendees …

… turn contact tracing on their phones as an added precaution.

Channel Futures is also attending Black Hat USA, underway this week in Las Vegas. (Black Hat is run by Informa, Channel Futures’ parent company.) A Clark County, Nevada, COVID-19 mask mandate is in place, so attendees there are masked up. Our editor on the scene says the keynote room accommodates some social distancing, but that’s a little tougher sell in the expo hall.

Many companies doing business in the channel are keeping a close eye on the path of the delta variant as they plan their own events for this fall. Channel Futures and Informa are doing the same ahead of November’s Channel Partners Conference & Expo. Nextiva canceled a sales meeting it had scheduled for Phoenix this week. Furthermore, Avant canceled a partner boot camp it was planning for San Francisco next week.

COVID-19 Mandates in Big Tech

Google recently laid down the law, stating that it is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October. Further, they are implementing a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its campuses are fully reopened. It’s a bold move for a tech firm, even one as large as Google.

Google’s announcement was shortly followed by Facebook. The company also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who come into the office. These decisions come as the spike in the more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus gains traction and is causing a rise in cases and hospitalizations. 

Other companies could very well follow suit after the tech behemoth’s decision. But, only time will tell if it will trickle down to partner businesses large and small in terms of COVID-19 mandates. 

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ImageNet’s Juan Fernandez

“One of the biggest concerns for any service provider is, how do we protect our people?” said Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet. “Technology has quickly become the foundation for businesses in the quicksand of the pandemic. Protecting not only our customers but our valued employees is now more important than ever. As a result, the ability to allow employees to work remotely is now an essential component of our businesses. Luckily for MSPs, we have options. For many others that have not adopted the tools, techniques and technologies that enable them to inherit the benefit, the discussion is not as favorable.

“I believe that we will see many tech companies adopt vaccination as a ‘right to return to the office,’ while I also see that many will choose the path of least resistance and allow employees to choose a remote option,” Fernandez added. “Overall, I believe that this is a difficult time for everyone; there are certain factors and limitations that need to be taken into account when creating company policy such as this and for some it will take time to navigate the best options for their businesses.”

Additional reporting by Craig Galbraith

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Allison Francis or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About the Author(s)

Allison Francis

Allison Francis is a writer, public relations and marketing communications professional with experience working with clients in industries such as business technology, telecommunications, health care, education, the trade show and meetings industry, travel/tourism, hospitality, consumer packaged goods and food/beverage. She specializes in working with B2B technology companies involved in hyperconverged infrastructure, managed IT services, business process outsourcing, cloud management and customer experience technologies. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Drake University. An Iowa native, she resides in Denver, Colorado.

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