Language Services Shift to Remote Working
Adapting to a Remote Working Environment
Around the globe, many office workers are entering their fourth or fifth month with a shift to remote working due to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In the language services industry, employers and employees alike have been shifting to this new full-time remote working paradigm faster than they could have ever predicted. However, working from home (WFH) – particularly in this industry – is not necessarily a new concept. In fact, remote working for language services providers (LSPs) has been somewhat of a mixed bag. While many LSPs have been operating with remote teams for many years, some have primarily operated with traditional office settings – but COVID-19 is changing all of this.
On-site interpreters and LSPs that have traditionally operated with in-house staff have arguably been hit the hardest since the pandemic began. For these professionals, shifting swiftly to a remote working operation, providing staff with appropriate support and equipment, and ensuring continued effective internal and external communication cannot have been an easy feat – not to mention the sudden loss of revenue that once came from on-site interpreting and translation services. However, LSPs focused on remote interpreting and translation technology, for example (or language services technology in general) have likely seen an increase in business as “clients who typically rely on on-site interpreting (outside of events and conferences) experiment with other setups.”1
That being said, having no physical office epicenter is still new for many project managers, team leads, localization engineers, and other localization professionals who until now have worked in close quarters in an office-centric environment.
Even though many LSPs had already incorporated a WFH policy in their employee benefit package in an attempt to allure the best talent (or in response to increasing employee demands for flexibility in the workplace and even in some cases, in an effort to save on office space), the pandemic has now forced many to accept permanent remote home offices as a working model for their employees. And yet, there is an important distinction to be made between working from home and working remotely.
Working in the Office
While working directly in the office requires employees to commute, it also allows for face-to-face socializing and certainly makes it more convenient to conduct regular team meetings. And, by its very nature, working in the office encourages a more structured workday which may or may not be viewed as a positive depending on the individual. Scheduled start, lunch, and end times might work for some, but for others who like to start early, work through their lunch, or extend their workday, this might be seen as an inconvenience.
Up until recently, WFH was generally a temporary arrangement of sorts and for the lucky employee it meant taking a day or two during the week to stay at home with their laptop. However, working remotely as a permanent arrangement requires a different set of abilities and work skills. A full-time remote worker must be first and foremost comfortable with physically working alone all day, be a self-starter, have exemplary time management and communication skills, and carry a proactive attitude. And let’s not assume that everybody loves working remotely. In fact, some employees really miss going to the office, standing around the coffee machine engaging in casual conversation, having a commute to catch up on reading, a finite start and end to their working day, and a degree of separation between home and office. According to researchers from University College London, it takes approximately two months to form a habit, although in some cases it may take up to 250 days, which is significantly longer2. In the current situation, it may behoove you as an employer to take stock of where your employees are in this transition.
Some localization professionals may already be there, enjoying the flexible work hours, taking a quick break to put on the washing machine or a longer one to take the dog out for a walk, and performing productively. But others may still be struggling to adjust to the new realities of virtual work. No matter the current level of adjustment your employees are experiencing, here are some effective tips that might help them – and you – move forward.
Tips to Get into the Habit of Remote Working
The lack of face-to-face time in a remote environment can be a major setback, particularly for those in managerial positions. When working from home, whatever your choice of technology, make sure that when you connect with your team it is in front of a camera. Visual contact should be maintained as much as possible. It not only helps keep everyone focused but also allows you to monitor body language. For those who miss being in the office, this is a chance to at least get to see your colleagues via video. When remote working, frequent communication becomes a necessity. Providing and receiving timely feedback, as well as answering and getting your questions addressed is a must so don’t forget to write down a list of topics to discuss or add them to the meeting agenda as you go.
Regularly Scheduled Meetings
If you have regularly scheduled 1-2-1 meetings, try to stick to the planned times as much as possible. The unexpected can happen – everybody can understand that – so if you absolutely have to skip the meeting, try to reschedule it within the same week. It will help everyone to stay on track of what needs to be discussed.
There is no such thing as overcommunication – in fact, effective communication is one of the pillars of remote work and most definitely applies to your project managers as well. Communication from leadership must flow and continue despite the many months that have already gone by since the onset of the pandemic. Regularly scheduled all-company calls that offer an opportunity for open questions, or even a newsletter from leadership that addresses questions collected anonymously by managers are a couple more communication strategies to consider.
Sponsored Personality Tests
Help managers and employees to get to know their teams better by offering to sponsor personality tests, particularly those that can help reveal dynamics between coworkers, such as the Keirsey Test, the DiSC model, Belbin Team Roles, or the more traditional Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Getting to know each team member individually would still be a priority, but these tests help get a much better understanding of the people working in your team and can help avoid possible misunderstandings and conflict stemming from this new work environment.
Dedicated Working Space
In a remote working environment, the ideal is to set up a separate room at your home where you can have a virtual office. The physical separation helps create distinct work and home spaces. When you work in a separate office you can close, and hopefully also lock, the door when your partner, family, and even house mates feel the urge to interrupt or pop in for a chat.
Proper Equipment and Clearly Defined Rules
What can you do if you don’t have a spare room in your home to dedicate to an office? Find a space to claim as your own, a corner in your bedroom or living room, and invest in some comfortable office furniture and decor. A good comfortable chair, a wide enough monitor, or monitors if you can make that work in the space, a quality webcam and earphones, and plenty of natural light will work wonders. If you have kids set some rules around access to the office space, a cutely designed “do not disturb” sign on the door may work for some.
It all Boils Down to Effective Communication
If you have shifted to remote working, you should make it clear to others when you will and will not be available. There is nothing more frustrating than looking for somebody and being unable to connect, especially if time was already set aside. At the same time, LSPs should actively discourage their employees from sending and responding to email requests after work hours. We know it is tempting – it is after all a very hard-working industry – but our mental and physical wellbeing have never been more important to combat this virus.
What strategies have you and your team implemented in order to successfully work from home? Reach out to GIM Writing Services to share your company’s unique approach to managing remote teams. We’d love to hear from you!
Written by Ronait Tynan, Project Manager, Translator, Life Sciences
1 Industry News · by Seyma Albarino On March 13, et al. “The State of the Language Industry as Coronavirus Goes Global.” Slator, 13 Mar. 2020, slator.com/industry-news/the-state-of-the-language-industry-as-coronavirus-goes-global/.
2 How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674