The quality of our work is affected by various external as well as internal factors. Seems obvious? Certainly, but how much attention do we actually devote to this topic as we go about our daily work routine? How does a health-oriented working environment – both in physical and cognitive terms – influence the quality of our work? Performance quality in the field of translation is particularly impacted by ergonomic factors.
What is ergnonomics?
The term “ergonomics” is a compound word from the ancient Greek ergon (= work/labour) and nomos (= laws/rules) and refers to the scientific study of people’s efficiency in their workplace. As you may have already guessed, ergonomics goes far beyond the way you sit or maintaining the proper distance from your computer screen. Ergonomics focuses on combining the organisational, cognitive and physical elements of work design – and this field has long since moved on from being static to one that is in constant evolution.
Digitalisation brings with it many new opportunities, but it also poses various challenges with regard to achieving the right balance between work and good health. The consequences of the corona crisis have also drastically changed the work world for many people.
Workplace ergonomics for translators
We are spending ever more time in front of a screen – both professionally and privately. In addition, new technologies and increasing digitalisation now enable us to work from practically anywhere.
This development has been particularly transformative for professional translators. What do you need to take advantage of this option? A computer, a secure and reliable internet connection, and the necessary knowledge and skills. “A translator’s work requires a high degree of concentration. Ergonomic factors help to determine whether the required concentration can be maintained and whether the related stress will have a negative effect on the person’s health or not.” (Andrea Hunziker Heeb, Romina Schaub-Torsello and Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow, 2015)
Dr Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow and Dr Andrea Hunziker Heeb, both professors from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting at the ZHAW, have been working for several years in the field of ergonomics as it relates to the translation profession. They conducted a study between 2013 and 2015 on the topic of “Cognitive and Physical Ergonomics of Translation (ErgoTrans)”, which investigated the following research questions, among others:
– What are the indications of disturbances to the translation process in the workplace? – Which cognitive and physical ergonomic factors are related to those disturbances? – How do professional translators cope with disturbances, and which practices seem to be most successful?
And the key findings of the study? There is a lot of room for improvement! Although significant progress has been made during the past years and there is now an increased awareness of ergonomic working practices, many deficits still exist, above all for freelance translators. Freelancers are frequently on their own compared to translators who work in the public sector or for private companies. “Learning from negative experience” is still too often the norm, unfortunately, and people usually react after the fact, when it’s already too late.
The following tips for freelance translators demonstrate how taking a preventive approach to your health will also improve the quality of your work in the long term.
Ergonomics when working from home – Tips for freelance translators
1. Setting up your workspace correctly
From sitting positions to optimum screen heights, there is a lot to take into consideration. You can find an overview here with helpful suggestions for setting up an ergonomically correct home office.
2. Minimise distractions and stress factors
Concentrate on the task at hand and keep the number of open windows and applications on your screen to a bare minimum.
3. Adjust software settings
Ensure that your software is tailored to meet your needs and not vice versa. Check the settings for your applications (format, screen display, language, auto-correct, formulas, etc.) and adjust them to avoid distractions.
4. Separate your work and private life
Avoid multitasking when working from home. Maintain separate hours for work and household chores/private life.
5. Create a pleasant working atmosphere
What is your ideal room temperature and lighting? Do you like to listen to music while working? Are you a fan of plants? Making small, personalised enhancements to your workspace can have a positive effect on your productivity and satisfaction levels.
6. Make sure you take regular breaks, exercise and have a healthy diet
Take enough breaks and don’t forget to move. Go for a walk if you are able to. Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet to keep your energy levels up while working.
More helpful resources for freelancers can be found here:
SwissGlobal collaborates with a global network of over 400 qualified translators, and we would like to thank Dr Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow and Dr Andrea Hunziker Heeb for the interesting insights and valuable recommendations they provided regarding improving ergonomics for our employees.