While many developers are encouraging employees to work from home in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Montreal-based Keywords Studios has been telling its QA staff to continue showing up to the office even as managers began working remotely, according to a report from Canadian trade unionism organization Rank and File.
Citing two current Keywords employees, company memos, and various logs from Keywords employee group chats, Rank and File reports that Keywords had been crunching largely as normal as of last Thursday despite health concerns.
Between March 15 and March 19, the company adopted some social distancing and telecommuting policies, but specifically excluded two of the largest groups of testers from working from home.
Employees were told in chat logs that strict non-disclosure agreements were a primary reason for not allowing work from home, as the company was worried about leaks of the games they were testing if employees were removing them from the office.
Additionally, employees were critical of the sanitation procedures the company did implement as the pandemic worsened.
Employees said they were regularly sharing devices like smartphones and VR headsets for testing, and being told to clean the devices at the beginning and end of their shifts.
"The testers are seated in such close proximity that, as much as they tell us to wipe down our devices, the doorknobs are not being sanitized, the chairs, desks, phones, controllers... it's nice to tell people it's being sanitized," one employee said. "People will forget."
Another tester recalled a team member saying he had a throat infection and not being sent home.
"Management has put out a notice saying they're not going to do anything until there's a case in our building, on our staff," the tester said. "That's not really something they should be waiting for, there's so many of us."
Keywords' sick leave policy was also brought up for criticism, with the company only paying workers affected by COVID-19 if they travelled outside of Canada to an "affected" region before March 17.
Keywords employees won't be under pressure to show up for much longer. The government of Quebec has ordered the closing of all non-essential services and economic activities by 11:59 pm tomorrow, and a representative with the company confirmed it will shut down operations in compliance with the order.
The representative also passed along a statement from CEO Andrew Day, who said the company's first priority has been the well-being of its teams, clients' teams, and communities, adding that it has met or exceeded local and federal health and safety recommendations in all of its locations around the world.
"These are unprecedented times and at Keywords Studios and we have been working tirelessly to design alternative production methods to keep our people safe and support our projects," Day said.
"In particular, wherever possible and always in consultation with our clients, we are moving our teams to work from home (WFH) operations. While we are continuing to make the necessary changes to our infrastructure, training our staff, and organising the necessary safeguards and security processes to support WFH operations, we have implemented a whole series of measures to increase the safety of our studios and teams.
"We have not and never would put anyone under pressure to perform their duties in an environment they are not comfortable with and, when directed to do so, as part of city-wide shutdowns, we have very promptly shut our facilities without delay.
"As a provider of services to the global video games industry, we rely on our people every hour of every day and want the best possible for them yesterday, today and tomorrow. By keeping them safe and continuing to perform the tasks entrusted to us be that game development, art outsourcing, testing, localisation, audio recording, or player support we hope to preserve as many jobs for them as possible."