That was then…
A typical day in the life of a freelance real-time stenographer, whether working locally or internationally, used to be: do your prep for the upcoming assignment. Book flights, accommodation, visas and vaccinations, if necessary. Pack up your stenographic machine. Ensure that you have the correct cables, chargers and adaptors for all electronics. Pack suitcase – and take your passport with you, if needed – if travelling to another city or country. Ensure that you know the address of the venue. Check public transport timetables, or check your motorway route if you are driving yourself. Leave enough time to get to destination, allowing for traffic or transport cancellations. Pack water bottle (but not near electricals). Stop en route to buy a coffee. Arrive at venue. Check in at the reception. Shake hands with client(s). Set up your equipment. Troubleshoot any technical issues. Tap away on your little machine. Pack it all up again. Complete the transcript. Press “Send”. Do invoice.
This is now…
Since the pandemic started, practically all reporting has been done remotely. The new typical day, whether locally or internationally, seems to be: do your prep for the upcoming assignment. Leave steno kit all set up where it is. Quick shower. Hair and make-up (if you’re feeling so inclined). Nice shirt, blouse or jumper (with tie or necklace) with tracksuit bottoms, jeans or leggings and slippers or slip-ons. Press “Play” on the Nespresso machine. Boot up the computer(s). Troubleshoot any tech issues. If expecting an Amazon or other such delivery, put a note on the front door that you’re in a Zoom meeting and “Please leave parcel at door”. Pour coffee. Put a load of washing on, if needed. Fill water bottle. Find credentials for the virtual platform (e.g. Zoom or Teams) that is used. Log in. Wave good morning (even though that’s not something you’d do when you walk into a room in person, but shaking hands is now practically impossible). Wait for all participants to join virtual event. Maybe troubleshoot others’ tech issues. Ensure that any comic filters that you might have used with your family and friends are turned off. Tap away on your little machine. Move it to the side. Complete the transcript. Press “Send”. Do invoice.
What does the future hold?
To me, comparing these scenarios is a perfect demonstration of how times have changed during the global pandemic. But have they changed for evermore? It is really an open-ended question, but as a real-time stenographer based in London, the UK, who used to travel internationally on a monthly basis, my belief is that the stenographic reporting world is set to become a hybrid of the old and the new. Where shaking hands with lawyers in legal proceedings was the norm, nowadays it seems, as mentioned above, that we wave upon entering a Zoom room. With the new phrase of the day being, “You’re on mute”, we’ve said goodbye to pleasantries about our journeys into work first thing in the morning. When we eventually return to in-person working, and all that that entails, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will not be like it was before.
Whilst the courtrooms, boardrooms and conference rooms, for the most part, sit empty, the corporate world and the wheels of justice have had to keep turning, even though they were forced to brake slightly for a short while. Whilst the brakes were on, stenographers (and other legal professionals, of course) were able quickly to get to grips with what this meant for them. With what was once considered the luxury of being able to work from home, some of us are now looking forward to getting back to in-person working when it’s safe to do so.
Adapting to new ways of working
The stenography industry, like many, many others, had to find a way to adapt, and, if you ask me, it was a rather swift transition to where we now find ourselves – i.e. virtual platforms such as Zoom. There are pluses and minuses inherent in these virtual proceedings, not least knowing the technology in your home. This includes, for example, your bandwidth, your upload and download speeds, being hardwired into your router, perhaps even some knowledge of the cables in the ground. Added to this is the quality of the participants’ connectivity on a virtual event because, after all, a stenographer’s job is to be verbatim and if someone has intermittent connectivity or even slight background noise, it makes our job that much more difficult and is also, obviously, disruptive.
Zoom and its ilk have been around for almost a decade and were seen, some say, as a way to avoid the high cost of setting up videoconferences in boardrooms. In our industry, just as we stenographers have had to adapt, so too have the virtual platforms themselves, as well as lawyers, judges, arbitrators, interpreters, videographers and conference organisers. In the captioning sphere of our profession, it is safe to say that those professionals were some of the quickest to adapt because accessibility is paramount in everyday life for millions of people around the world. This forced adaptation shows stenographers’ capacity for change and our preparedness to stay up to date with our industry’s ever-evolving developments, and that is something we should all be proud of.
Whilst working from home means little or no travel at all, it can also mean that stenographers may be tempted to take on more work than they would normally. This brings with it extra pressures and potential stresses, so it’s important that we all take time for ourselves and look after our physical and mental well-being.
We have surpassed the 12-month mark of remote reporting and this way of working is not going anywhere soon. Love it or hate it, I think it is here to stay, in one way or another.
Leah Willersdorf is a real-time stenographer based in London with almost 30 years’ experience and with various certifications in Australia, the UK and the US. She is Tiro’s communications specialist and a serving member on the Council of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) and serves on various committees for the National Court Reporters Association in the United States.