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Paradox of the Knowledge-Worker Age at a Translation Agency

Photo by Will Bostwick, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thestanding/3309262506How are you coping in the knowledge-worker age? Is your productivity going up? Or are you feeling that things that used to be so simple are getting more complicated?

I catch myself thinking about these things sometimes, too. In this post, I describe some of the ways this paradox is affecting our translation agency.

Let’s say I can save four hours by using a computer instead of doing the same work manually. While I save four hours, I will also need to spend additional time on “maintenance”; that is, making sure I am able to use the computer properly. This includes fixing technical problems, learning how to use the computer, and similar activities that result from the fact that using a computer is more complicated than manual work. These activities may add up to, say, two hours. I end up saving four hours and losing two hours. The good news is that after deducting the lost time, I am still “in the black.”

But let’s imagine that I am not fully efficient with the computer, as is the case with many people, and it takes me six hours to do the same work that I could supposedly do manually in four hours. And what about the stress of those “maintenance” activities? Since the knowledge-worker age tools are so complex and demanding, my stress level increases by using them. As a result, those two hours that I saved can easily be lost in procrastinating, as I find myself unable to do anything productive after work.

A more specific example might be e-mail. E-mail was supposed to make communication more efficient. While we became more efficient indeed, we also started to get more and more e-mails and are now spending more time writing, reading, replying to, and generally managing e-mails.

More Complicated by the Hour

A translation agency has to optimize its processes to remain competitive. We need more automation, more sophisticated tools, and more options. Yes, this increases efficiency. At the same time, the complexity of the processes goes up and so does the stress level.

Imagine that a translation agency receives a DOCX file for translation. The easiest way to process this file is to translate it directly in MS Office. But if the agency wants to be more efficient and competitive, it must use a CAT tool, or a translation memory program. Using a CAT tool undoubtedly has a lot of advantages to it, including efficiency, consistency, and ability to provide discounts to clients easily. At the same time, the entire process of running a translation business gets way more complicated:

Added Layers of Complexity

  1. The agency can’t engage just any translator. Translators must now be proficient with a CAT tool. Finding a translator becomes more difficult.
  2. Managing a translation process with a CAT tool takes more time. Analyzing source files against a TM, maintaining and re-using glossaries, using correct translation memories—all of these things drain time and energy.
  3. Since using a CAT tool adds a major level of technical complexity to our business, we are inevitably going to have technical problems. Tools will malfunction. Users will work with incorrect settings and require technical support. Source files won’t be accepted by the CAT tool. Translated files won’t save, and so on.
  4. Simply using a CAT tool is one thing, but using it efficiently is quite another. Optimizing segmentation, removing superfluous tags, using keyboard shortcuts, etc., all add more sources of complexity.
  5. Because the entire translation process got more complicated, finding and training qualified employees becomes a challenge.
  6. As if the complexity were not frustrating enough, all the tools and processes keep changing rapidly (yes, for the sake of efficiency). As a result, people will never be 100% efficient, and most won’t probably reach a 50% level. This is a source of never-ending frustration for them and for those around them.

Summary

With all the new technology that is supposed to be time-saving, we often end up having less time and higher stress, as the technical side of things drains time and brain power. This is why my goal as a business owner is to make sure that our processes—while efficient—are also as transparent and straightforward as possible.

Are you a technical person who is excited about the complexity that comes with efficiency? Or are you someone who thinks that life is becoming more complex, despite all the efficiencies?

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy my article about other challenges associated with translation as a profession.

2 comments

  • Susan Welsh says:

    Where did you find this rare photo of a translator with a clean desk? 🙂

  • Good point, Susan :). Judging by the number of the monitors, I think this guy is a “crossover” between a translator and a trader. A translator often uses just one monitor, while a trader uses four or more :).
    Thank you for your comment.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.