Today, the ABK Workers Alliance published a statement opposing a recent return-to-office mandate that is impacting hundreds of Activision quality assurance (QA) workers. While the company has been allowing hybrid work situations up to this point, the group says that on November 30, QA workers in Minneapolis, Austin, and El Segundo working primarily on Call of Duty were told they must fully return to office five days per week beginning in late January. Activision is offering severance to those who depart from the company as a result of this mandate.
On November 30th, Activision QA employees in Minneapolis, Austin, and El Segundo received an email announcing that hybrid work will be ended in January for QA employees.
Below is our statement regarding this decision. pic.twitter.com/UKyRH2BggH
— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) December 18, 2023
IGN has viewed the text of an email sent to impacted IGN QA workers about the change, which says the move to full-time office work came after Activision “found that our Central QA team is much more effective on in-office workdays than on remote workdays. Much of this is attributable to commercial broadband speeds, in-person team engagement leading to faster alignment, and better access to hardware in the office.”
The message continues by noting that the change “may not align with everyone’s personal and professional goals,” and offers a one-time separation package of a minimum of 12 weeks pay, 2023 bonus, 12 months of healthcare, and unused vacation time payout to anyone who voluntarily separates due to the mandate. It concludes by stating that there are “no current plans” for other similar changes elsewhere in the organization.
When asked for comment, an Activision spokesperson offered the following statement regarding return to office, which echoes the email IGN viewed:
After returning to the office in April, we’ve learned a lot about how our teams can work best. In particular, we saw our QA team in Minneapolis, Austin and El Segundo work more effectively and efficiently in person, thanks to improved broadband speeds, seamless team coordination, and better hardware access. As a result, we’ve made the decision to move from a hybrid work schedule to a full-time, in-office working model for Activision QA in Minneapolis, Austin and El Segundo to foster a best-in-class QA function and best deliver for our players.
ABK Workers Alliance Responds
In response, ABK Workers Aliiance has published a statement opposing the mandate, and accusing Activision of not doing enough to support workers who want to keep their current jobs but need to work remotely for a variety of reasons. The group says that many QA employees have been communicating with Activision’s accommodations team since the start of hybrid work earlier this year in an effort to receive permanent work-from-home accommodations due to “disability, financial issues, or other factors.” However, they say that many of their requests have been denied entirely, while others were offered in-office accommodations that were insufficient to meet their needs.
The statement also notes that “many employees” were hired during full lockdown, live “a significant distance” from the offices, and will feel an impact both to finances and work-life balance for having to commute.
“This has resulted in many employees being forced out of the company in a soft layoff,” reads the statement from ABK Workers Alliance. “It is our belief that the removal of hybrid work will result in many, many more employees being forced out of the company and into a desperate situation.”
In addition, IGN has spoken to several Activision employees who have expressed opposition to the mandate. QA employee Kate Anderson told us that the mandate “ensures that the needs of our most vulnerable employees are not met.” Another QA employee who wished to remain anonymous told us they had been successfully working remotely for three years now, but have spent much of the last year going through Activision’s accommodations process to receive the right to work remotely due to a disability.
“One of Activision’s company values is Champion DE&I, but imposing this return to office policy on the entire department is inherently inequitable,” they said. “The vast majority of our team worked remotely for the entirety of 2021 and 2022 without issue, so we’ve already proven our jobs can successfully be performed while working remotely. In the e-mail announcing the change, they cited that the team is more effective when working on-site, but correlation does not equal causation. I implore them to look into other factors that have contributed to our success over the past year.”
Another QA tester, Andrew Snell, similarly disagreed with the company’s statement that working from the office was the cause of Activision’s recent successes. “Since the COVID-19 quarantines, Activision Blizzard King has set sales records on their Call of Duty franchise titles, including their mobile division, all while most of their workforce was required to work fully remote. Since April of this year, we have worked under a hybrid in-office/work-from-home setting that greatly benefits those who have medical necessity and for working families. With the decision to return to the office full-time, many of my co-workers are concerned for their futures and are weighing the options of whether or not they can take this deal.”
An Activision spokesperson additionally supplied the following statement with regard to accommodations in response to IGN’s request for comment:
We take our support for employees with disabilities, differing abilities, mental health requirements, and changing medical needs seriously. We are focused on finding appropriate, reasonable accommodations for team members who experience barriers to performing their essential job functions. We thoroughly manage all requests and work with the individual confidentially to understand their medical needs and offer a variety of individualized solutions.
Ongoing Clashes with Activision Blizzard
The ABK Workers Alliance was formed in 2021 in response to a California lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard alleging discrimination and harassment against employees of the company. The group has since been involved in organizing multiple walkouts at the company and in supporting the unionization of both Raven Software QA workers and Blizzard Albany. Currently, the group is working on further collective efforts in light of ABK’s new parent company, Microsoft, pledging union neutrality.
“A one-size-fits-all mandate harms us all,” ABK Workers Alliance concludes. “Everyone loses: the company, the products, the players, and, most of all, the employees. We stand firm in our resolve that the decision to WFH or RTO should be made on an individual basis with consideration to the needs of each employee.”
In the last year, a number of major companies have implemented return to office mandates that have sparked frustration from workers who adapted or expected to be able to continue working from home. Blizzard, for instance, was allegedly creating “crisis maps” due to a mass exodus of employees in response to a forced return-to-office, among other issues. And over at Ubisoft Montreal, developers flooded an internal messageboard with hundreds of comments, many of which claimed the company had broken a promise of permanent remote work to its employees.
IGN has also reached out to Activision parent company Microsoft for comment.
Rebekah Valentine is a senior reporter for IGN. Got a story tip? Send it to [email protected].
This story was updated post-publication with Activision’s response.