the special role of real-time translation in the work of distributed teams

with remote work getting more and more traction due to the covid-19 restrictions we start developing experience of what works and what doesn’t. there are a lot of perspectives on remote work, the controlling perspective for instance under which companies and institutions quickly realize that remote work is a very cost-effective tool, which at the same time helps reducing co2 emissions – a category that will soon be object of corporate reporting as well.

if we take the perspective of communication effectiveness, remote work seems to be less promising. While in physical meetings we have a wide range of auditive (hearing) and visual (mimics, body language) communication channels which all add up to our capability of understanding (getting the meaning), this range can be widely impaired in distributed team settings mostly relying on video conferences. reported problems with this mode are poor audio/video quality and/or dropouts. by reducing the quality of both the auditory and the visual communication channels our capability to understand each other and lead a forward-oriented discussion are impaired. in international teams / settings the situation is worse. participants have to get the meaning of contributions and ideas other participants present in “corporate language” which might happen not be the the presenter’ and/or recipient’s native language.

if we ask what could “make up” for these deficits in communication effectiveness several elements come into play:

  • communication discipline: only one person talking at the time giving the better VC systems the chance to position the speaker in the center. This allows for better focus on the presenters mimics and body language
  • writing down contributions on a joint workspace
  • a rigid process providing the context for individual contributions

a last element which can contribute to joint understanding in a tremendous way is real-time translation. with real-time translation, team members from different language backgrounds participate in the corporate language discussion but can read and contribute in their native language. like this, a permanent cross-check on the basis of the written contributions allow to make sure everybody is “the same page”. but the benefits of real-time translation go further: imagine a “magic whiteboard” on which everybody in the room would see whatever is written on the board in her or his own native language. experience from group discussions in international teams show that often concepts and ideas presented are poorly understood and this poor understanding often is not even revealed. if presentations or contributions are supported by written elements that – thanks to real-time translation – precisely describe the core of an idea or concept, a source of misunderstanding in international teams can be effectively eliminated and the quality of a discussion outcome or team process increased.

ivicos combines video conferencing with a powerful workspace. Ivicos templates offer a rigid process providing context for increased understanding. contributions are recorded in writing and ivicos’ real-time translation function makes sure that mutual understanding is ensured especially in international teams or settings. way beyond communication within distributed teams ivicos allows for true distributed (new) work.

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