How to Increase Production Among Remote Service Providers
As the owner and CEO of a translation agency, I have dealt extensively with some major adjustments in business operations in the past, though nothing like what we are all dealing with during the current global COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus crisis has changed how we all live, work and even shop, forcing not only translation agencies, but much of the corporate world to digitalize merely to survive as a viable business online or off.
As a translation agency that was established as a fully digitalized business before the global coronavirus outbreak began, we were in a much better position to capitalize on the changing markets than those translation companies and interpretation services that never had employees working from home. Operating an online business during the global COVID-19 pandemic is more preferable to the more traditional office setting for different reasons. The people working from home for an online business remain safe without the need to adjust.
For those companies that already established the digital aspects of corporate operations before the global coronavirus outbreak, there was a (tragic) opportunity to increase their share of the expanded online marketplace. For those corporations who are only now adapting to business online, digitalization is more complicated.
Are Digitalization, Remote Service Providers, and Doing Business Online Worth It?
According to this report from The Hill website, the average company, not just a translation agency, will save nearly eleven thousand US dollars per year for each employee working from home. We do personally see many areas of savings with our remote translators and interpreters. Thus, the easy and quick answer would be yes, remote service providers and employees working from home are valuable. Add in the many studies that show an increased level of productivity and the decision seems even easier, but are meaningful business decisions ever that easy?
There are also more recent studies. Some of these studies only came about after self-isolation and social-distancing forced companies to digitalize and consider the viability of remote employees working from home as our translators do. In contrast, these reports show that a great many companies who were not adequately prepared for work-from-home scenarios will see an immediate drop in production, as noted in this article by the Straits Times in Singapore.
Why Do Digitalization and Remote Employees Fail?
It is relatively safe to presume that very few if any successful translation agencies function without guidelines, policies and other criteria for both operations and employees. Earlier studies that showed an increase in productivity by remote employees, only studied corporations that already had policies in place for employees working from home.
Translation agencies and other companies that do not have remote worker guidelines will likely have a difficult time managing their remote employees, as was noted in the Harvard Business Review. Thus, a decrease in productivity will become virtually inevitable. The key to increasing productivity among remote employees is to have guidelines for employees who work from home.
It should be noted that the exact nature of the remote worker policies will vary depending on the needs of the business, the nature of the work being done by the work-at-home employees, and other factors. What is presented herein is designed to include the basic structure and outline to serve as the foundation of a company policy for work-from-home employees and what has proven to be beneficial in our translation agency.
- Eligibility – Among the first determinations to be made are which departments and employees are eligible for remote work. In the case of accounting, the lead Accountant or Comptroller may be required to work from the office and may still require an assistant. However, all the requisite documentation can be scanned and posted online, accessed through a secured network, and the accounting completed remotely.
- Equipment Requirements – There needs to be a determination not only of minimal system requirements, but also the inclusion of any additional equipment, including hardware and software requirements for the remote employees. Will telephone communications be necessary? Will remote employees be required to have printers? What equipment will the company provide? What equipment should be provided by the remote service provider?
- Workspace Requirements – Are there requirements in place regarding the work environment for employees working from home? Employees working from home for the very first time will be facing their own challenges. Their children may be home, providing distractions for as long as the COVID-19 outbreak continues, there may be noisy neighbors, or any number of additional distractions. What is the ideal scenario for a work at home employee and to what extent can the translation agency using remote employees accommodate the potential for distraction?
- Availability – Is the job function for the employees working from home such that they will continue to work on a fixed schedule? Will some employees have options for working as-needed? Will employees be allowed to set their own schedule as long as they maintain expected production levels? There are expectations for the business and the employee working from home, though these need to be specific, established by the translation agency.
- Employee Tracking, Monitoring, and Supervision – One concern of the HR department in our translation agency, seemed to be the inability to retain oversight of employees. There are software solutions such as Time Doctor and others, that allow the translation agency to track employees working at home, depending on the needs of the translation agency to track workers rather than focus solely on production. These programs track computer programs and apps, take screenshots, and more.
- Productivity Requirements – There should be definitive requirements for any employees that will be working from home as our interpreters do. This should include minimal production level requirements based on the expected output from the employee and their respective departments.
- Tech Support and Accessibility – Tech support may be provided for both company owned and personal equipment for remote employees working from home. However, it may be best to ensure that Cybersecurity protocols are in place even if the remote service providers are working on their own equipment. Data breaches and hacks are a leading cause for driving companies out of business. If possible, a Virtual Private Network or VPN should be established, ideally within an intranet or secured environment. However, the individual needs will vary based on the IT systems in place at the corporate level. It may also be a good idea for IT to send out regular reminders, hints and tricks to lessen the potential for phishing and other scams to endanger secured data or systems.
- Meetings and Video-Conferencing – It can be tempting, even for translation agencies to want to have video conference calls every day, but care should be taken not to interfere with the production capacity of remote employees. Weekly video-conference calls are generally sufficient, though some companies may prefer one at the beginning of the week and one at the end of the week. Additional video conferencing should be restricted where possible, though in the case of some personnel such as our interpreters and translators, the calls may also be part of the job requirements.
- Days Off and Sick Days – Will employees working from home be allowed to take sick days so they can “go home” and rest? Will remote service providers accrue sick leave or paid vacation time? Are the employee handbooks in use still going to serve the needs of those employees working from home or will they need to be revised accordingly? “It’s all about the bennies” is as much about employee benefits packages as it is about the “Benjamins” or pay.
- Disciplinary Measures and Employee Termination – Infractions of the rules will unfortunately, still occur with employees who work at home. Many of the remote employee tracking software programs will catch the most blatant abuses, but some may be more difficult to detect. Nonetheless, there must be a standardized set of disciplinary actions common for all employees of the translation agency, even those working from home.
There is no telling at the time of this writing just how long the global COVID-19 pandemic will adversely impact the economy and the way we conduct business as a translation agency with remote translators and interpreters. What is certain is that those companies that do digitalize now and actively engage in employing more people as remote workers, will enjoy a substantial savings in the cost of operations.
Is digitalization worth it? Are substantial annual savings, increased production levels and increased profitability worth it? Of course, but only if the company is already well prepared and not rushing headfirst into the tempest, struggling to adapt and overcome the challenges of “unforeseen” circumstances. For us, having translators and interpreters working from home is not some distant vision of the future, but the practical digital reality of doing business today.