In this article, we take a look at what the translation industry can do to mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19, both within and outside the industry, as it keeps spreading across the world, forcing more and more people to work from home.
- The language industry is being hit by the coronavirus situation, with companies reporting up to 40% less revenue than by the same period in 2019.
- At the same time, as it is built mostly around remote freelance workers, it can arguably fare better than others.
- When switching to remote work, translation companies should introduce online team communication, task management, and translation tools.
- Regular syncs and meetups will help keep everyone on the same page while working from home.
- As some industries are circumstantially benefiting from the coronavirus outbreak, catering to those will help you stay afloat.
- Being proactive, not waiting for customers to come on their own initiative, and keeping the discussion going is key to making the best of a difficult situation.
As the coronavirus situation continues to unfold, more and more people, businesses, and whole economic sectors face rundowns they haven’t seen in decades. And while the language industry is no exception, its high reliance on remote workforce arguably puts it in a slightly better position than others.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how this can open up opportunities both within and outside the translation industry.
How are we faring so far?
According to Slator, the language industry is already suffering a major decline, with stock-listed companies reporting a 10 to 40% decrease in their year-to-date revenues. Understandably, the worst-hit sector is offline interpreting, where the traditionally booming month of March has turned out to be a low season.
At the same time, other industry companies and platforms are experiencing a surge. Again understandably, the biggest “winners” — as cynical as it sounds in the current situation — are online interpreting providers. Some other LSPs report increasing orders from companies wanting to translate their coronavirus mitigation policies, outbreak-related corporate and customer communications, and suchlike.
In either case, as most language service companies are built around a remote freelance workforce, they can continue their operations at least in principle. As for freelancers themselves, while many report a fall in the number of orders, they are happy — to a certain point — that they don’t have to change their work routines due to quarantines and lockdowns. This stands in stark contrast to brick-and-mortar businesses and on-site workers, many of whom are at the verge of bankruptcy and in need of drastic governmental support to stay afloat.
As most language service providers are built around a remote freelance workforce, they can continue their operations at least in principle.
Where do we go from here?
With the speed at which the situation is developing, any advice risks becoming obsolete in a matter of weeks if not days. But right now, as of March 19, we recommend translation industry participants to focus on these three things to mitigate the risks.
1. Go remote the right way
While most LSPs have been working with remote freelance translators for quite some time, many of them have until recently relied on in-house roles such as project managers, vendor managers, and LQA specialists.
Now that people in these roles have to work remotely due to lockdowns and quarantines, they are facing challenges they have never experienced before: How do you stay productive without the boss watching? How do you communicate without hanging around a water cooler? How do you get on top of all your tasks when there’s no cubicle to put your sticky notes on? As an owner, you are in no better position: If you previously had everyone on-site and in sight, how do you manage all these people now that they are in the forced coziness of their homes?
If you previously had everyone on-site and in sight, how do you manage all these people now that they are in the forced coziness of their homes?
Here’s some advice based on our own experience, as we have historically had dozens of people working remotely:
- Start a Slack workspace. While email, Skype, WhatsApp, and whatnot are all great for their own purposes, none of them is a really good fit for running a “virtual company”. In Slack you have channels, threads, mentions, and lots of other features that are indispensable in everyday professional communications.
- Consider using Notion. Slack is great for solving issues “here and now”, but you also need a tool to be able to keep track of all the “little” things that pile up as you work: tasks, action points, internal policies, etc.
- Have weekly one-hour Zoom meetups, where every team member will talk about the challenges they overcame in the previous week and the ones they are about to face in the days to come. While Slack is the best place for team chat, such weekly meetups will give a bigger sense of coherence and oneness in the team.
Finally, if you have been using desktop TMS or CAT tools until now, it’s time to finally say goodbye. (Frankly, this has been the case for a while now.) You’re overwhelmed enough with real issues to have to worry about installing gateways to office servers or moving licenses to your employees’ personal workstations.
If you have been using desktop TMS or CAT tools until now, it’s time to finally say goodbye.
What are your options? There are several online TMS and CAT tools out there, but we — surprisingly! — recommend Smartcat as the only all-in-one platform for translation businesses: You have a workspace to manage your projects, you can invite as many users as you need without any restrictions, you can have everyone collaborate in real time in a powerful CAT editor, and you can send out payments across the world with just one invoice. The Forever Free package has all the tools you need to keep your business up and running, and we also offer free one-on-one onboarding until the end of March so you can learn the ropes more quickly in this challenging situation.
2. Cater to the surging industries
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some industries are enjoying a surge amidst the impending recession. For instance, tools that make remote work possible, such as the already mentioned Slack, Notion, or Zoom, are all getting so many new users that their servers often get overloaded.
Another obvious example is e-learning: As more and more people, both kids and adults, are advised to stay at home, universities and schools are wondering if online lessons can work for them. And even outside of formal education, people are starting to look for webinars on all kinds of topics just to pass the time.
Speaking of passing the time: Locked in their homes and unable to go out anywhere, people are starting to discover various forms of entertainment online. The gaming platform Steam set an all-time record for concurrent users last weekend, Reddit has seen a 20–50% increase in some of its communities a.k.a. subreddits, and Pornhub reported up to a 14% increase in daily views.
It doesn’t mean you have to pivot your business to adult translations as these two guys did, but you may want to start thinking about where best to look for your next customer or project. Whether it’s an up-and-coming e-learning platform or an indie video game developer, there are guys out there who could seize the day, and you can get in on it too, if you’re smart about it.
Whether it’s an up-and-coming e-learning platform or an indie video game developer, there are guys out there who could seize the day, and you can get in on it too, if you’re smart about it.
3. Be proactive
Last but not least, now is the time to get out there — metaphorically speaking, of course, please stay at home! — instead of sitting around waiting for the next order to come in. People are scared. Companies are scared. The last thing they are thinking about in this paralyzing state of mind is localization. You need to speak up and help them out.
Companies are scared. The last thing they are thinking about is localization. You need to speak up and help them out.
Here’s just one idea: McKinsey and Company has analyzed the measures taken by companies around the world to handle the coronavirus crisis, and at least four of them look like cases where translation services could be of use:
- Portfolio of policies and actions, including prevention and incident response,
- Multichannel communications and confidential reporting mechanisms,
- Communications to B2B customers and scenario-based risk communications,
- Customer communication on COVID-19 practices, fact-based reports on issues, and situation communications.
So go on, reach out to your existing customers and tell them that they need these communications — and that they need them in your language, too. You might have even already translated something like this for another company. If so, ask that company if it’s okay to share this with another customer of yours: In these trying times, companies are more likely to be willing to help others out.
Or, say you have a customer or a prospect who you know relied heavily on European customers. Now — with Europe being quarantined — they are starting to lose money. Guide them toward places where the situation is already improving, such as China or any other countries that are coming out the other side of this at the time of reading.
With Europe being quarantined, companies who relied on this market are starting to lose money. Guide them toward places where the situation is improving.
Finally, you can go all philanthropic and follow in the footsteps of translation companies such as AJE, which offers free translation for coronavirus-related articles. This might cost you in the short term but you’ll get loyal, grateful customers in the long run. Not to mention karma!
As we already said, any advice we give you here is bound to become outdated very soon. But, paraphrasing WHO expert Dr. Michael Ryan, most predictions are wrong — but all predictions are important.
What we think is essential at this point is that we don’t go into denial and that we keep talking and discussing things, even if we can’t do it in person.