Earlier this year, Meta terminated its lease at the San Antonio Center office buildings in Mountain View, pointing to the company’s goal to build “a best-in-class remote work experience” as a reason for vacating the space. But according to two Meta content moderators, the people who worked at the Mountain View office are now required to work in person at the tech behemoth’s Fremont campus.
John, a content moderator, is an Accenture employee who is contracted to work on Meta’s Trust and Safety team — and he said this isn’t the first time that contracted and full-time employees received different treatment at Meta during the pandemic. The Voice agreed to use a pseudonym for John over his fears of retaliation from his employer.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, “the whole company went into lockdown, but the content moderators were not allowed to go into lockdown,” John said. “Many people were actually taking time off, their own PTO time off, in order to be at home and be out of the office and at less risk.”
The Intercept published a March 12, 2020 article revealing that content moderators and other contracted employees at Facebook offices across the country – including the San Antonio Center office in Mountain View – were required to work in person, while full-time employees were sent home.
Soon after, the company changed its policy, John said. A March 18, 2020 article from the BBC reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would allow its third-party U.S. content moderators to work from home.
“Facebook sent out an email to the contract companies and said, ‘Send all your vendors home,’” John told the Voice.
Contracted employees were asked to return to Meta’s Mountain View office in mid-2021, according to John.
“The reasoning that we’ve been given by Facebook and by our contract company, Accenture, is that the material that we see is too sensitive to be viewed at home, or away from the office,” John said. “Which a lot of us push back against, because it’s the same material that we were viewing when we were working from home, and that didn’t seem to be a problem back then.”
Ryan, another content moderator contracted by Meta, said he finds it unfair that contract employees were required to return to the office while full time Meta employees continue to have the option to work from home. With the majority of his work done on a laptop, Ryan, who also asked to use a pseudonym over retaliation fears, said being asked to return to the office was frustrating.
“We were being productive being at home, and it was really assisting us in our personal lives because we had time back for ourselves, not having to worry about commute, traffic and all that,” Ryan said. “I did feel that was unfair.”
When asked why content moderators are required to work in person, Meta did not directly address the question. A Meta representative said, “Our remote work policy has not changed, anyone who is able to do their job from home can apply for remote work.”
But according to both John and Ryan, with Meta’s lease termination at the Mountain View offices earlier this year, those who worked there are now required to work in-person at Meta’s Fremont office.
“I’ve gone from having like a 10- to 15-minute commute to having a 45-minute commute,” said John, who lives in Santa Clara. “... I know a lot of people who just quit their jobs and went to find something else.”
When directly asked, Meta would not confirm or deny whether employees who worked in the Mountain View offices are now required to work in Fremont.
When the Voice asked Meta for comment on why the company was leaving its Mountain View office space, a company representative said, “Our aim is to build a best-in-class remote work experience to help everyone do the best work of their careers no matter where they are.”
But for contracted employees like John, “It’s become a laughing joke to the people in my office whenever Meta says that.”
“Mark Zuckerberg has famously said, ‘The future of work is going to be at home,’ and that’s their whole platform for the Oculus that they’re trying to push all the time,” John said. “And here we are, sitting in the office. … It’s just kind of laughable at this point.”
Content moderation has long been documented as one of the most emotionally grueling positions in tech, with employees tasked with parsing through disturbing content for hours at a time. In 2021, Facebook reached a settlement worth $85 million with more than 10,000 content moderators who had accused the company of failing to protect them from the psychological trauma of their work, Reuters reported at the time.
The settlement, which was approved by Superior Court Judge Raymond Swope in Redwood City, according to Reuters, included the creation of a $52 million fund for ongoing mental health treatment for content moderators. Those mental health resources have been helpful, John said.
“If you see something that is upsetting to you emotionally or mentally, you can sit down and schedule an appointment to talk with these wellness coaches that will really help you get through the day or figure out a plan of how to best take care of you,” he said.
But, John continued, “it loses its juice when those wellness coaches are actually at home themselves.”
“So in order for me to sit down with a wellness coach, I would need to go and schedule a meeting room and then get into the meeting room, set up a video call and have the video call,” he said. “I can do the same thing in my house.”
Ryan said that while he appreciates the mental health resources Meta provides, having the option to work from home would be a big boost to his mental health.
“I have a small home gym. There would be times where, during the time I was working at home, if I did see something that was disturbing, sometimes I would just go out to do a quick rep,” Ryan said. “We don’t have access to the gym that’s on the Fremont campus, it’s only for the full-time employees.”
And with COVID-19 still infecting people, Ryan said working from the office and increasing his chances of exposure is nerve wracking.
“It seems like every other week there’s someone that contracts coronavirus in our building,” Ryan said. “You have to wear a mask the entire time. I feel that if they really wanted to squash that, they should allow us to work from home for, say, a week, two weeks (when someone tests positive).”
At the very least, Ryan said, a more flexible, hybrid model would ease his nerves about being exposed to the virus.
“I think that would also help alleviate the concern, because you’re decreasing the people in the building, therefore decreasing the odds that the coronavirus would spread,” Ryan said.
Being forced to work in person, he said, “doesn’t feel like a logical way to try to handle this.”