Facebook announced plans to delay employees’ return to the office until 2022 earlier in August, but CNBC writes that some Facebook contractors employed by Accenture have been working in person since a week before. This might not be a surprise as The Verge previously reported that some of Accenture’s contractors in Texas were instructed to return to office work as early as October 2020.
A Facebook spokesperson tells The Verge that the 2022 return to office plan applies to a majority of all full-time and contingent office employees in the US, regardless of if they’re employed by Facebook or a contracting firm:
“While the majority of full-time employees and contingent workers for Facebook continue working from home, some have returned to offices that have reopened at reduced capacities with strict health and safety standards in place. A person’s status as a full-time employee or a contingent worker does not factor into whether or not they can work from home due to the global pandemic.”
What seems to determine whether an employee is able to keep working remotely is their role and responsibilities. In the case of the workers CNBC spoke to, that included contractors generating data for Facebook’s machine learning model. These contractors were given two weeks to prepare for their return to the office on August 1st and were only allowed to continue working remotely if they could get a doctor’s note.
For contractors working in moderation, the main concern from Facebook and other platforms is that sensitive user content — including frequently traumatic imagery — can only be viewed on secured company machines to avoid privacy issues. Working on machine learning might not as easily fit that same logic, especially since CNBC reports the contractors it spoke to have been working remotely for over a year, but security issues and ever-increasing pressure to improve moderation may have also been a concern.
When asked, Facebook was not able to share how many contractors are now working in-person. Both Facebook and Accenture claim they enforce strict COVID-19 protocols for employees in offices. Facebook mandates all employees to wear masks and in some cases requires office employees to get vaccinated “depend[ing] on local conditions and regulations.” Those are both helpful in keeping employees safe, but still leaves some risk of workers passing along an infection to a more vulnerable family member, like children not yet allowed to get vaccinated.