Co-location. Noun: To be located jointly or together.
You know, like the good old days.
This past week, I had a chance to put co-location to test at my home in live RSI. It is awesome, but also took some setting up. And setup means getting over a few hurdles… Coming to terms with remote interpreting, choosing equipment for an at-home hub, and setting up the equipment for that hub.
Now, we're ready to put co-location in practice at home.
Putting the co-location hub into use involves starting with a preconfigured hub and introducing another interpreter into the mix. I recommended to the client to work with a professional colleague that I’ve had experience working with before. This meant that we both have a general trust in the expected quality of interpreting (an important part of both face-to-face and remote interpreting scenarios), but just as importantly, that we have a degree of trust in one another’s commitment to social distancing.
Prior to the event, we discussed and negotiated the use of PPE. Should we wear gloves during our time together? What about masks? Should they be used at all times, or only when not interpreting? In the end, we elected to work without the use of gloves or masks, but we did take the precautions of having sterilized pre-made food ready for lunch, along with sterilized utensils, all surfaces (tables/chairs/sink faucets, toilet, etc.) that might be touched were sanitized, and we signed a liability waiver on the risks of getting the virus.
Familiarizing my colleague with the equipment setup went pretty easy. They brought their own microphone windscreen, and so that was installed on the microphone, along with simple adjustments to the mic’s placement. Headphones were made available. We let them hang-out alone in the sun for a few days before and after the event.
We also needed to become acquainted with the interpreting software interface. Here, co-location has a great advantage over being in separate locations: Two interpreters in one room means that we only need one interpreter’s profile, instead of two (as we would need if we weren’t co-located). One interpreter uses the interpreter’s profile to connect with the hub’s audio setup (mics and headphones). The other interpreter uses their profile to merely watch the video. The benefit is that we don’t handoff to one another by clicking any buttons. So, less focus on the tech, and more on interpreting.
The one-interpreter-profile solution also makes adding interpreters to the hub easy to do, because there is no learning curve for the guest interpreter, regardless of the platform. They simply set up their mic, grab a coffee, and we’re ready to rock.
The setup for this event did require some changes in typical booth behavior. Both mics remained ‘hot’ throughout the event. So unlike in the standard booth, where one can turn on/off the microphone and somewhat freely make noise, like moving papers around the desk or using a mouse, we had to stay super quiet because any of these noises would be picked up at any time.
We both agreed that fatigue wasn’t as big of an issue with co-location. And this is quite opposite to my previous solo-remote experiences. Perhaps this came from the confidence we had in working together, the ease of floor transition, or also the fact that we weren’t rushing around as one does during a face-to-face event.
From the interpreter’s perspective, the greatest asset of co-location is the ability to visually signal one another throughout the event – making for seamless and less-tiring performance. We can take/release the floor on command, request immediate assistance from one another, and do all those things that come naturally in an on-site interpreting booth. Again, the advantage is that we can remain focused on interpreting rather than on managing the technology.
Being the inaugural run of the hub, there were inevitably going to be some issues that require fixing, such as the ‘two hot mics’ problem mentioned above. Thankfully, solutions are available. These are things that get into the technical weeds, so I’m not going to go into them here. Suffice to say, that working with equipment at home is a practice in getting as close as possible to face-to-face quality.
My takeaway is that home-based RSI is not yet mature. There’s still innovation to come from both the technical and social side of things. As long as we are willing to experiment, learn, and make good decisions, we are going to get ever closer to the quality our clients have to expect from face-to-face events, where co-location is simply taken for granted.