In principle, translation, like mathematics, is an abstract art that requires no more than a pencil and a piece of paper. However, rather more in the way of equipment and space is required for a modern commercial translation agency to function properly. In this article we will direct our focus towards the spatial facilities that will need to be in place to ensure the proper separation and cooperation between the various functions that make up your translation business.
Any independent translation agency that employs more than one or two persons should have an office plan that allows for the segregation of the three basic operations: translation, marketing and sales. Anyone who plans to combine these three functions in a single space - or indeed within a single person - will soon discover his mistake. The concentration required for high-quality translation work is such that it needs to be performed in a space that is free from ambient interference. At the same time, the marketing and sales functions - or departments if you like - by their nature involve a great deal of verbal communication, telephone calls, consultation and discussion. Clearly, the three operations do not go together, and the basic spatial layout of a translation agency should reflect this simple fact. Below we will describe each of these three spheres in some more detail.
More than anything else, the people in the translation department will require silence. They cannot work, or at least not properly, if they are unable to concentrate. So positioning your translation area at the front of a building with windows opening on to a major thoroughfare is obviously not a good idea. Despite fashionable trends in office design, moreover, it is our strong conviction that the translation department should have a spatial structure that effectively discourages people from physically communicating with one another. Ideally speaking, each translator should have his or her own room where they can work in peace and quiet. If that is not feasible, at least make sure to provide an environment where people can work quietly and independently, rather like a library reading room. We are not suggesting that there should not be any communication at all; obviously, professionals need to consult with each other to improve their knowledge and skills. The important point, however, is that the translators should be able to communicate on their own initiative, rather than being disturbed at random and distracted, unpredictably, from the constant attention that the translation process requires.
Something rather like the opposite applies to the marketing & sales department - or at least to its marketing section. This is a far more dynamic part of the translation agency. The basic function of the marketing department is to fuel a constant flow of ideas to attract business, and of techniques to put those ideas into practice. This calls for a great deal of consultation and planning, either internally or externally over the phone. The people working there should obviously not be bothered with calls for silence and reproachful glances, but should be able to chat and telephone as they please. The marketing department should be positioned and equipped to reflect its dynamic nature.
The sales department is again a different story. In terms of spatial demands, it hovers somewhere between the pristine silence in the translation rooms and the dynamism of the marketing section. This has to do with the dichotomy between the verbal and written client contacts comprised within the sales function. On the one hand, sales employees will have to be able to answer client calls, canvass prospects and follow up quotations, amongst the myriad of other sales-related duties. As a result, this part of your business will look - and sound - rather like a call centre. On the other hand, sales employees need to be able to study client requests (especially the more complicated ones), calculate offers and draw up quotations, operations that are at least as error-sensitive as the translation process itself and require the same type of concentration.
To sum up, the design of your office will have to recognise the three basic functions which any professional translation agency, however small, should be able to accommodate: translation, marketing and sales. Ideally speaking, each of these functions should be granted a space of its own that does justice to the nature of its operations and provides an optimal environment for the associated work processes. In other words, the translation department should have as many rooms as there are translators, or otherwise consist of a communal working space with facilities, rules and customs similar to those in a library reading room. The marketing department should be equipped and designed to promote optimum internal and external communication, whereas the sales department also requires a separate space, if only to accommodate the non-verbal aspects of its processes.
Segregation is of the essence, and if you cherish any wish to use an open plan office design for your translation business you are well advised either to abandon that wish or move to a different profession.