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Remote Working in the Translation and Interpretation Sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily life in many ways for many people. One of the most notable changes...

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Remote work

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily life in many ways for many people. One of the most notable changes has been the sudden shift towards working from home that nationwide and local lockdowns have forced upon workers. 

There’s far more to successful remote working than just sitting in bed and opening your laptop. As such, we’ve taken a look at how to work from home effectively, using the example of those providing translation and interpretation services, many of whom have been home-based for years. 

Remote working is no longer just for translation services 

Remote working was already on the up, even before the word ‘coronavirus’ found its way into the headlines. Technology has advanced sufficiently over the past few years to make working from a remote location, including a location that’s in a different country from your employer, an entirely achievable and realistic possibility. 

Despite this, the pace of uptake has been remarkably slow. Telework data for metro areas of New York, for example, shows that the share of workers aged 16+ who usually work from home has risen from 3.7% in 2008 to just 4.5% in 2017. That’s less than a single percentage point in an entire decade. 

Although the technology has existed to enable successful remote working for some time, the concept hasn’t always translated across well to employers, many of whom have been reluctant to embrace the shift in mindset that such arrangements require. To employ staff who work remotely, employers need to show a greater degree of trust. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many weren’t prepared to take the ‘risk’ of letting their teams work remotely. 

However, remote working translates into a number of benefits. Remote workers are 35-40% more productive, with an output increase of 4.4% or higher. Their work shows 40% fewer quality defects. Their level of absenteeism is a staggering 41% lower. Not only that, but increased retention through enhanced working flexibility results in average lower staff turnover of 12%. 

Despite all of this, many employers struggled to overcome the psychological barrier of trusting their employees enough to allow them to work remotely. At least, until the COVID pandemic forced their collective hand. Suddenly, businesses of all shapes and sizes had no choice but to trust their staff to work from home and found themselves scrabbling around to get the tech in place to enable them to do so. 

Remote working and freelancing – the translation sector example 

Working remotely is not the same as working freelance. What does it mean to work remotely? A remote worker can be employed part-time or full-time by a company; they simply work from home (or another location that isn’t a company office). Freelancers, on the other hand, are responsible for their own destiny when it comes to finding clients with whom to work. They can work from home, from co-working spaces… essentially from anywhere, they choose, provided they have the right tech in place to enable them to do so. In some circumstances, that could even mean working from a client’s office. 

The translation industry has been home to both remote workers and freelancers for years. The nature of translation lends itself to workers being in quiet environments where they can work undisturbed, rather than in noisy, hectic offices where it’s less easy to focus. 

Not all translators work from home, of course, but many do. Some of those who translate for a living do so as freelancers, but there are also translators who are employed part-time and fulltime by translation companies and who carry out their translation work from home. 

It’s certainly fair to say that remote working is better suited to some roles than others, though the ways in which many businesses have creatively pivoted their services during the COVID-19 pandemic have been immensely impressive. Within the language services industry, for example, it is usually easier for translators to work remotely than for interpreters to do so. 

This is because many interpreters usually deliver their services in person, attending events such as conferences, summits, business meetings, and the like. What are the different types of interpreting? The two most commonly used are simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting. 

Simultaneous interpretation is where the interpreter talks at the same time as the speaker, translating continuously for the duration of the speech. This is the kind of interpreting that tends to feature at conferences and similar events. 

Consecutive interpretation is when the speaker and interpreter take turns to deliver their speech. This is more commonly used in business meetings. Other kinds of interpretation services, such as whispered interpretation, consecutive relay interpretation, and liaison interpretation, are also better suited to business meetings or other small, conversational gatherings than large events. 

Translators, meanwhile, deliver their files digitally and can thus do so from anywhere. The increase in online events rather than in-person events during the first half of 2020 certainly created more opportunities for interpreters to work from home, as companies switched from conferences to webinars and from face-to-face meetings to catchups over Zoom. It’s fair to assume, however, that at least some of those businesses will switch back to their old habits as lockdown restrictions ease, thus increasing demand for in-person interpretation services once more. 

What translation services can teach us about successful remote working 

Is working remotely a good idea? Many translators, including those employed fulltime and those who freelance, would assert that it is. In addition to the measurable benefits mentioned above, working remotely has a number of less tangible advantages. Remote workers don’t usually need to spend time commuting or deal with the stress of doing so. They may find it easier to juggle home and work life in order to achieve the ideal balance, making for a happier overall lifestyle. Working from home even means that translators can find it easier to eat more healthily than they would if they were office-based. 

So what does it take to work remotely successfully? There is an element of this being role-specific, but there are certainly some common requirements that all remote workers need to consider if they are to use their time as efficiently and productively as possible. 

Tech, of course, has a big role to play. Remote workers need to be able to connect with their colleagues, their clients, and everyone else they may need to encounter as part of their professional life. That means having a stable phone and internet connections and, usually, a decent laptop or home computer and reliable mobile phone. Depending on the role in question, items such as printers, scanners, tablets, microphones, headsets, and other pieces of kit might be required in order to facilitate the remote working arrangement. 

For translators, access to the right software is also key. Translation memory tools can lead to faster, more accurate translations, so those working remotely while translating for a living need to ensure that they have the right tools to hand. 

Successful remote working, however, is about more than just equipment. Remote workers also need to have the right mindset. When you work remotely, the buck stops with you. You may still have deadlines, but there’s nobody looking over your shoulder to stop you from procrastinating. If you spend your time scrolling through Facebook and Twitter as the minutes tick by, that’s on you. 

This means that remote workers need to have the right approach. Enthusiasm for the task at hand and plenty of self-motivation is required in order to get the best out of a remote working arrangement. Attention to detail is also important, particularly when your remote work entails something as focused on providing professional translation services. 

Freelance translators also need some additional skills in order to work from home successfully. They need to be able to network remotely in order to find clients, for example, while employed remote workers can simply reply to their companies to keep the translation work flowing. Freelancers also need to have strong admin and financial admin skills so that they can keep their professional house in order. Again, this is something which employed remote workers don’t need to worry about. 

Remote translation and interpretation workers also need to find ways to keep their love of language alive. This ties in with the need to be self-motivated but doesn’t just apply to get on with individual tasks. When you translate for a living, you work with language day in, day out. At times, that can be a draining experience, meaning that remote workers need to find ways to stay inspired by their craft and to enjoy working with language in ways that go beyond it being purely a means of putting food on the table. 

Finally, all remote workers in the language services industry, regardless of their employment status, need to keep upskilling in mind in order to future-proof their careers. Translation and interpretation don’t stand still – demands for the types of services required continually evolve. Those who focus on meeting future demand will be best placed to enjoy long and fruitful careers. 

Offering a range of services is certainly important in this respect. Remote workers who quietly plug away at developing additional skills can expand from translation work into multilingual content writing, proofreading, editing, desktop publishing, providing multilingual customer support, and more. Every new skill means a more robust career and, therefore, a more stable, long-term remote working arrangement. 

Overcoming the challenges of remote working as a professional translator 

There are plenty of benefits to working remotely, but that’s not to say that the experience doesn’t have a downside. Professional translators and interpreters who work from home have to deal with a range of issues, with the sense of isolation that the arrangement creates being top of the list. 

Remote working isn’t for everyone. Do you thrive on the experience of chatting with colleagues and enjoy the buzz of a busy commute? If so, then remote working may pose challenges for you. Working from home is quiet – very quiet. Even when you’re rushed off your feet, it can be a lonely experience. For some translators, this sounds ideal! For others, it sounds like their nightmare working scenario. 

For those who work from home because they are freelance, another challenge of doing so is the lack of a company to drive the development of their career and skills. We talked above about how valuable upskilling is in terms of future-proofing a language services career, but it’s not always easy to prioritize this when you have deadlines looming and there’s nobody forcing you to prioritize your own personal development. 

The future of remote working in the translation industry – and further afield 

When it comes to the translation industry, remote working is here to stay. Translators have been working from home for years and will continue to do so well into the future. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for interpreters and translators between 2018 and 2028 stands at 19% – much faster than the average rate of growth. 

When it comes to remote working more broadly, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has done much to fast-forward both employers’ attitudes and employees’ hopes. A report from O2 based on two surveys of workers in the UK found that 45% of respondents are predicting that their companies’ approach to flexible working will change permanently, regardless of lockdown measures lifting. 33% of those surveyed, meanwhile, believe that the amount they work from home will increase permanently by at least three days per week, when compared to pre-lockdown working. That figure rises to 81% for one day per week of more home-based work. 

The translation and interpretation sector has long been at the forefront of remote working arrangements, showing how well working from home can work under the right circumstances. As we face a future of continuing lockdowns and ongoing social distancing within the workplace, it appears that remote working is here to stay – and not just for language services providers. This means that there is plenty the world can learn from the example being set by the translation industry.

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