Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Are we human or are we freelancers?

During a recent seminar on professional positioning, the participants had an interesting discussion  on the correctness of writing in a professional email that you are not available for work because you have to go to the birthday party of your four-year old child or something of that nature.  Does this open up communication and make you more accessible or is this completely unprofessional?  This issue would apply to almost all freelancers whose primary means of communication is email.

Before considering that question, the following social status facts should be considered.  At least in translation, the vast majority of freelance translators work from their home.  A clear majority are women.  A good percentage, but probably not a majority, is married with children.   This means that significant percentage of translators is busy with such household tasks such as laundry, cooking, and errands as well as translation during the day, not that anybody really cares.

Given that fact, household management tasks do affect deadlines.  As was stated by one participant in that workshop, it is clearly more professional to say “when I get back to my office” as compared to “when I get home” even if home is the office. So, freelances need to keep their professional life separate from their personal life. At the same time, there is a need to make an impression on Project Managers so that we become more than a faceless name in their books.  Discovering both you and the PM both have a child of the same age or name can in some cases lead to a dialogue that will lead to more referrals. 

The decision on whether to expose or ignore your personal life is both personal and cultural.  Some people, regardless of the culture around them, function with clear, distinguished domains.  It is often difficult to know whether the Project Manager thinks in this manner.  Cultural factors can be a determining factor.  Some cultures are more informal, such as Israel and Australia, while others are much more formal, such as Germany and England.  Also, the age of the parties is important.  For example, younger Americans tend to use their first names and be more informal in correspondence than the previous generation, where Mr. and Mrs. replaced the first name.

In response to the question in the title, I can quote that wonderful line by Oscar Wilde: everything in moderation, including moderation.  Think before you write, but you are allowed sometimes to share something besides your professional knowledge.  After all, we are both human and freelancers.

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