Behind the Scenes
Demystifying the Office Manager
Terena Bell is a reporter covering the language industry for MultiLingual, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and others. In a past life, she owned In Every Language, an LSP, and served on the GALA and ALC boards.
Great translation requires more than translators. From project managers to in-country reviewers, linguistically, an entire team must come together in order to get each message right. But what about the behind-the-scenes, non-language roles that make translation happen? From salespeople to marketers to accountants, localization companies are filled with other professionals who form the industry. How come nobody ever talks about them?
Welcome to “Behind the Scenes,” a new MultiLingual column that looks at the non-language roles that language services wouldn’t exist without. In this issue, we interview Nikki Cowland, office manager for England-based provider Anja Jones Translation (AJT). AJT is located in Newquay, on the north coast of Cornwall.
So, what does an office manager do exactly? AJT has 18 employees, which affects Cowland’s role, she says. “I have found that working for a smaller company, the role of an office manager can be truly varied and challenging, as you may find yourself wearing a number of different hats. It is constantly evolving, and I have found myself taking on new responsibilities all the time.”
Her current role is very hands-on and encompasses four key areas. The first is managing the physical office: utilities; fire alarm; liaising with managing agents, landlords, tradespeople, cleaners, trash and recycling collections; that kind of thing. Then, she is also tasked with looking after the health and safety of all AJT’s employees, such as ensuring the company’s policies and risk assessments are up to date, as well as monitoring general wellbeing and happiness. Cowland notes that this job has became much more important during COVID. In her current work, Cowland mentions “an increased focus on mental health and wellbeing, as well as being set up with a safe workspace and the right equipment.”
Cowland also handles human resources, supporting the recruitment process, inducting new employees, keeping records up to date, managing AJT’s review process, checking in with employees regularly, and helping new employees to settle in when they arrive in the United Kingdom, if necessary.
Her final task has been in accounts and payroll, managing payroll for in-house and freelance teams. “It’s about accuracy and keeping comprehensive records, so you have to be on the ball with your wits about you at payment time,” says Cowland. Then there’s the bookkeeping, the banking, the invoicing, the credit control, the reconciliation, and the VAT European value-added tax.
“Now that I’m working in the translation industry, surrounded by language lovers of all persuasions, I know this is where I want to be. It’s wonderful speaking with translators from all over Europe and some from further afield.”
Between interview and press time, Cowland’s office duties will change again, since AJT is closing its physical offices and going fully virtual. “Naturally, I’m involved with managing that transition too, along with Anja [Jones, company owner]. My role just keeps on evolving,” says Cowland.
Why does the language industry need office managers? “An office manager can be a lynch pin — a conduit — between the various facets of a business and its people, and also a face for the business in the [managing director’s] absence,” says Cowland. “An office manager is generally in the office during working hours, when the management team might not be. They can pick up on the subtleties in an office environment: who’s happy, who’s not, who’s struggling, where communication is breaking down.” Additionally, an office manager can be the link between translators and management.
“Our translators spend a lot of time concentrating intensely at their computers for hours on end, and I’ve always encouraged them to take breaks, get away from their desks, not overdo things and get out of the office to get some fresh air,” Cowland notes. “I’ve found that my own role has sometimes been that of a facilitator for communication, of getting people talking. It’s important to enjoy your time in the office and get to know your colleagues.”
As for what made her want to work in translation as opposed to a different industry, she says it wasn’t a conscious decision. “If I’m honest, I was surprised to learn that there was a translation company in Newquay [but] as soon as I saw Anja’s advertisement, I knew I wanted the job. I enjoy admin, I’m organized, I’m a stickler for detail, and I love languages, so the job seemed to fit the bill very well.”
And indeed, says Cowland, it did fit the bill and she ended up learning a lot. “Now that I’m working in the translation industry, surrounded by language lovers of all persuasions, I know this is where I want to be. It’s wonderful speaking with translators from all over Europe and some from further afield. I learn something new every day, be it a new word, a new food or an understanding of a new culture. Languages open doors in all sorts of ways and I am very happy to be working in this industry.”
Cowland says there are misconceptions people in her day-to-day life have when she talks about her job, however. “People always assume I’m a translator and are disappointed to hear that I don’t actually translate. My friends know I speak Spanish and French, so naturally [they] make that connection.” Aside from that, she says people are generally surprised that there is a translation company in Newquay, a smaller beach town of around 22,000 residents, where most jobs are in tourism.