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Remote Work and Global Dispersion
Post-pandemic language industry perceptions

By Tucker Johnson

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted how we work and live in countless ways, but perhaps none more so than in remote work. With the pandemic forcing people to work from home en masse, companies worldwide grappled with the need to adapt to a new way of working.

For the language services industry, however, remote work has always been crucial. Language service providers have long relied on globally dispersed teams to provide services to international clients. Historically, localization teams’ need to work remotely across multiple time zones could cause conflict in organizations with a robust office-first culture. However, with remote work becoming more mainstream in recent years, we have seen a shift in how companies approach global dispersion and, therefore, more opportunities for localization teams to hire and manage globally dispersed remote teams.

What does the data show on post-pandemic perceptions toward remote work (the opportunity to work from home) and globally dispersed teams (the opportunity to work across borders and time zones)? We will discuss what localization managers at language service buyers (LSBs) and language service providers (LSPs) prioritize — the upsides, the downsides, and overall sentiments around managing global teams in a post-pandemic era.

“Dispersed teams are ideal to maximize value in the post-Covid workforce, especially for global companies.”

– LSB, Europe

Figure 1: How important is it for a successful localization department to allow for remote team members (regardless of their location)?

The study

The impact of the pandemic on remote work has been studied extensively in recent months, with many experts examining the short- and long-term implications of this shift. Nimdzi Insights, a research and advisory company specializing in the language service industry, conducted one such study. The study aims to understand people’s preferences for teams located in a single location versus team members dispersed globally in a remote-work environment.

To supplement the many studies published elsewhere on “mainstream” industries, the Nimdzi Insights study focused on the language services industry and collected responses from localization professionals worldwide. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into these topics and explore the survey’s findings, including direct quotes from participants about their remote-work experiences.

Figure 2: How important is it for a successful localization department to allow for remote team members (regardless of their location)?

Remote work

For the language services industry, remote work has always been a crucial aspect of its operations. LSPs have provided remote translation and interpretation services for decades, using technology to connect with clients and team members around the globe.

Unsurprisingly, the data show that access to remote work opportunities is overwhelmingly seen as important in the localization industry, with most localization professionals rating its importance between 8-10 out of 10. Remote workers are especially critical for LSPs, which have long relied on dispersed teams to provide services to clients globally (Figure 1).

However, the survey also revealed that LSBs were less likely to rate the importance of remote work as high as LSPs. The average rating for LSBs was 8.4 out of 10, as opposed to 9.0 for LSPs. While this delta is not alarmingly large, it suggests that while LSBs recognize the importance of remote work, they may not see it as critical as LSPs. Even in a post-pandemic era, client-side localization departments sometimes still fight a decades-old corporate culture that frowns upon remote work and prefers employees to be in a central location.

Interestingly, the survey also found that remote work accessibility is reported as necessary regardless of team size (Figure 2). Localization professionals from large and small teams all rate the importance of remote work on average as 8.8 out of 10, with virtually no variance between size categories. This indicates that remote work is seen as critical across the industry and is not just for large teams or companies.

“The importance is finding the balance. The last couple of years has taught us the benefit of remote work. A hybrid option might be a good compromise
for many teams.”

– LSP, Americas

The shift in attitudes around remote work has prompted teams to reevaluate their policies. LSBs are increasingly embracing remote work, creating competition for qualified labor both among LSBs and between LSBs and LSPs. As companies adopt remote work, LSPs realize the need to adapt to remain competitive and retain their teams. The team members now have more opportunities for remote employment, not just from LSPs who have always embraced remote work but also from LSBs.

Figure 3: How important do you feel it is to have a globally dispersed team in the language services industry? (Rate 1-10)

Global dispersion

In addition to remote work, global dispersion has become increasingly important for the language services industry. The study distinguished remote work from global dispersion to analyze the difference in attitudes between “work from home” (which may still be in a central location or timezone) and truly dispersed teams that facilitate and encourage employees to work from anywhere, regardless of the company’s location. As we in the language services industry have known since even before the remote-work revolution, global companies can benefit greatly from geographically and culturally diverse teams that can provide linguistic and cultural expertise in multiple regions.

According to the Nimdzi study, global dispersion is overwhelmingly important in the language services industry for all company types, with nobody ranking its importance less than 5 out of 10 (Figure 3). In particular, LSPs see global dispersion as more critical than language services buyers LSBs, with an average rating of 9.2 for LSPs and 8.6 for LSBs.

“I think remote and dispersed were already mainstream, and the pandemic made it a must. I doubt I would go back to an office as a fixed need (yes for events, key meetings) ever again, and most of my peers agree.”

– LSP, Europe, Americas

Interestingly, the survey respondents reported that global dispersion is more critical for larger teams than for smaller teams, with an average rating of 9.3 for teams of 100 or more and 8.8 for teams of less than 100 (Figure 4). This suggests that the benefits of global dispersion may be more pronounced for larger teams, as they are likely to have more clients and team members located around the world, as well as the HR and administrative functions to support managing employees across borders.

Overall, global dispersion continues to be important for the language services industry. As companies look to expand their reach globally and explore ways to focus more on their local end-users, LSBs are also recognizing the benefits of growing and maintaining a local presence worldwide. LSPs that can offer dispersed teams with local expertise will likely provide higher-quality services and local market expertise to these LSBs that cannot scale their reach to their target markets themselves.

Upsides

The study also analyzed the upsides to global dispersion in the language services industry. Companies choose to employ globally dispersed teams for many reasons, like increased diversity, reduced costs, proximity to local audiences and supply chains, and more (Figure 5).

The Nimdzi Insights survey found that LSBs and LSPs prioritize different upsides to global dispersion. LSBs place the most significant importance on proximity to local audiences (79%), followed by follow-the-sun model/timezone coverage (64%), increasing team diversity (64%), proximity to local supply chains (57%), and increased equality/equity (57%).

In contrast, LSPs place the most significant importance on the follow-the-sun model/timezone coverage (84%), followed by increasing team diversity (84%), 24/7 project coverage (80%), proximity to local audience/clients (68%), proximity to local supply chains (64%), and increasing in-house language capabilities (52%).

“Having a globally dispersed localization team allows for a stronger understanding of local cultures and linguistic practices. Many organizations rely on local LSPs to give them that benefit, but members of the internal team are in a much better position to build that knowledge into the core localization practices of the organization.”

– LSB, Europe

Surprisingly, cost savings were infrequently reported as a driving factor for having globally dispersed teams. Only 36% of LSBs reported it was important, and 40% of LSPs responded in a similar manner.

Other upsides to global dispersion include improving service quality by providing localized services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, improving overall responsiveness, reducing costs, increasing collaboration and language capabilities, and improving compliance and backup support for all team members.

Overall, the data highlighted that global dispersion provides numerous benefits to the language services industry, even if the prioritized benefits vary between LSBs and LSPs.

Figure 4: How important do you feel it is to have a globally dispersed team in the language services industry? (Rate 1-10)

Downsides

While global dispersion provides numerous benefits, the study also analyzed its perceived downsides. The survey found that the most significant reported downsides to global dispersion are the complexity of managing remote teams, which includes considering local labor and employment practices, compliance challenges, language barriers, and the lack of face-to-face interaction, which can impact team communication, collaboration, and company culture.

Timezone challenges and availability can also pose a challenge, as team members may need to work outside their regular hours to accommodate clients in different regions. Other downsides to global dispersion include increased costs, managing cultural differences, and the need to travel, which can be challenging for team members and impact work-life balance.

As with the other categories we’ve already reviewed, the data show that language LSBs and LSPs prioritize different downsides to global dispersion. LSBs place the most significant importance on the lack of face-to-face interaction (79%), followed by the complexity of managing remote teams (64%) and timezone challenges/availability (50%).

In contrast, LSPs place the most significant importance on the lack of face-to-face interaction (75%), followed by timezone challenges/availability (71%), the complexity of managing remote teams (58%), and managing local labor and employment practices (50%).

These findings highlight the importance of effective communication and collaboration tools, as well as strategies for managing remote teams across different time zones and regions. The lack of face-to-face interaction is also a significant concern for both LSBs and LSPs, indicating the importance of fostering team collaboration and maintaining company culture in a remote environment. 

Figure 5: What are the benefits of having a globally dispersed team?

Conclusion

While every organization is unique and needs to define remote work policies that work for them, the Nimdzi study provides valuable generalized insights into how cultures and ideas around remote work have settled in the language services industry in a post-pandemic world. The data support what many of us have known for years: that accessibility to remote work opportunities is critical for the industry, with globally dispersed teams important for properly conducting localization activities and especially critical for vendors.

The study highlighted several factors to consider when implementing a global dispersion strategy, including follow-the-sun continuity, access to local consumers/supply chains, and equity and inclusion considerations. Language services providers and buyers prioritize different factors, indicating the importance of understanding the specific needs of clients and teams when developing a global dispersion strategy.

While the benefits of global dispersion are significant, the study also highlighted several agreed-upon downsides, including the lack of face-to-face interaction and added complexity associated with managing remote teams. However, even if we may be biased, we can most likely agree that localization professionals are often much better equipped to handle these challenges than their non-localization counterparts.

By carefully considering the factors that impact global dispersion and developing strategies to manage the associated challenges, both LSPs and LSBs can maximize the benefits of global dispersion while minimizing the downsides, ultimately improving service quality, client/customer satisfaction, and team collaboration.

Figure 6: What are the benefits of having a globally dispersed team?

Tucker Johnson is the co-founder of Nimdzi Insights, co-owner of MultiLingual Media, host of Nimdzi LIVE!, Speaker, teacher, and author of The General Theory of the Translation

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