Part 1 of our series: Enhancing Client Value during the Pandemic
This is part of an ongoing set of posts about providing value to clients without the benefit of interpreting on-location
Start with a cliché. Necessity is the mother of invention. Six months after COVID-19 introduced itself to the world, conference interpreters worldwide are asking themselves about the ongoing viability of the market in which they work.
This post kicks off the series with some background on developing a platform designed to provide conference interpreting clients with the next best thing to being on-site: Co-located interpreters using a professional audio and computing hub at home.
My ongoing journey towards establishing a remote interpreting hub started in holding the same position that others in the industry do: On-site conference interpreting is the only manner in which our service can be provided with superior quality – that remote is fundamentally substandard to on-site.
If we are in a world where on-site is impossible though, it’s comforting to think this will be only temporary. My initial gut reaction was to fortify my position – limit my expenses, read the news, and buy some face masks. SARS and its effects on the market, it’s said, only lasted a few months. The pain was real, but thankfully temporary. Eventually, the planes start flying again and hotel membership cards come out from their lonely corner of the junk drawer.
The news hasn’t been forgiving. The social gravity of the conferences is, and is expected to remain superseded by the protective gravity of the home. Unsure of how to proceed, I searched out ways to connect with peers and industry leaders.
So, community engagement was Step 1. I searched through my invoice list from the past few years and sent emails to agencies to let them know I’m still in the market, and would like to discuss options to service clients. I contacted industry leaders I’ve gotten to know through the years – people who train and consult interpreters, and have connections to the broader industry. I contacted my most trusted colleagues, looking to establish a community in which our discourse may reveal paths forward.
Initial meetings lead to discussing established concerns. Dealing with RSI, for example… Many, including our clients, are skeptical. Interpreters and clients are geographically isolated in situ, leading to problems with being heard, hearing others, and transferring the floor from participant to participant. As a business, one fundamental issue is the commoditization of my services – being converted from a valued service provider with personal agency to being one-of-many acting as qualified labor for another institution that holds a great deal more agency than I. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that we were fighting against AB5 with the same arguments?
Beyond these problems, the initial discussions lead to identifying initial solutions. One was to upgrade my microphone to a level that could be used for interpreting, at minimal cost. This came in the mail a few days later – a nice little headset with microphone attached. I used it for subsequent meetings. While in one of these, the group noticed that one interpreter’s voice was much better sounding. We inquired about his equipment, and he was kind enough to share his setup with the group.
I researched the pricing for the equipment, and balanced the investment against my need to limit my expenses. The decision came a few days later, based on some logic…
Either the pandemic is here to stay or it isn’t. I have no way to anticipate the development of vaccines and therapeutics that may enable the market for on-site conference interpreting to function, and so it’s reasonable to assume that the pandemic is here to stay for the short/medium term. If the on-site market continues to not function as a result, then my business model as a conference interpreter is at risk. In order to mitigate this risk, I require a new, temporary business model that is based on the current reality.
The decision was this: Continue learning about the shifts in the marketplace. Invest accordingly, balancing the risk of continued investment with a realistic assessment of what the benefits of those investments will be. Maintain and innovate to achieve the highest possible quality standards. Learn how to provide on-site-minus-one value to clients without sacrificing my own agency to make decisions.
I decided that continued investment was justified and that with it, I might be able to send signals into the market in a way that would ensure value for my clients, and profits necessary to sustain a business.
Those investments, so far, have centered around purchasing an ecosystem of audio equipment – a microphone and headphone setup, training on the relevant platforms where interpreting happens, and continuing to invest time with organizations and interpreters to co-construct practices for the market as it currently stands. This blog series is part of the latter of these action points.
In the next part in this series, you’ll see a presentation on the audio equipment, the manner in which I selected the items to purchase, and how it’s been setup.