At the height of the COVID pandemic, Microsoft workers ‘chose’ to sleep in data centers, according to a company executive.

Last year, Microsoft directed employees to work from home after the virus landed in the US. In October 2020, a company internal memo announced more employees could work from home permanently. As cases and deaths continued to climb, however, some employees were so crucial that they had to sleep at locations hosting the company’s public cloud infrastructure and online services such as Microsoft Teams.

‘I heard amazing stories about people actually sleeping in data centers,’ said Kristen Roby Dimlow, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, CNBC reported. ‘In certain countries there was huge lockdown, and so we would have our own employees choose to sleep in the data center because they were worried they’d get stuck at a roadblock, trying to go home.’

A data center is a facility used to house operating systems, critical applications and servers for technology corporations. It is generally not conducive for sleeping or living. Aisles can be unreasonably hot from the heat radiating off servers and cold because of air conditioning for the machines. According to CNBC, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to explain how employees managed to sleep in their data centers or how many did it.

During an April interview with the business outlet, Microsoft executive Noelle Walsh defended the company’s actions. She claimed these centers were reorganized during the pandemic and that ’employees were allowed to work from home if they felt anxious about coming to data centers’. She also said that Microsoft provided transportation to and from the center and offered to put their employees in hotel rooms. ‘We had to in some cases go to shift work, day and night, to get the work done within the same schedule,’ Walsh concluded.

Allegations of grueling working conditions inside technology companies have soared as American reliance on online services and e-commerce skyrocketed during the pandemic. For example, an investigation by the Intercept last March found that Amazon drivers were pressured to urinate and defecate into bags in order to meet quotas and make deliveries.

Kevin Lynn, the executive director for the non-profit advocacy group US Tech Workers, believes Microsoft prioritizes profits over safe working conditions.

‘For decades companies like Microsoft have prioritized efficiency and profit maximization which has led them to offshoring facilities such as data centers in low rent jurisdictions and countries,’ Lynn told The Spectator. ‘The pandemic laid bare the shortcomings of this model wherein local municipal infrastructure constraints prevented employees in foreign countries working from home.’

Technology conglomerates use H-1B visas to recruit foreign nationals abroad for specialized jobs through staffing and outsourcing firms. The industry has long pushed to expand the annual 85,000 cap on new H-1B visas, but critics such as Lynn argue companies abuse the visa system to drive down wages for U.S. workers.

Data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services indicate 3,401,117 H1-B receipts and 2,634,328 approvals between 2007-2017.

‘Microsoft uses guest worker visa programs to bring in cheaper and compliant workers because they deem American workers to be expensive, undeserving and expendable,’ Lynn added.