Is online mediation here to stay?
Is online mediation here to stay?
With the COVID restrictions which have been in place now for nearly a year, many changes to the working environment have taken place.
Many people have been working from home using various platforms which offer the opportunity to provide face to face meetings online.
While there may have been some glitches (remember the lawyer who had a cat filter on his screen?) most people have found it a successful and easier way to work.
Mediation has been no different. Meetings have been set up on line and parties to mediation have met and mediated from the comfort of their own home.
The advantage of online mediation are many.:-
The clients stay in their own homes which are often a more relaxing environment than coming out to an office in town.
The clients are not in the same room or even the same building as each other, yet can safely communicate without fear of physical danger.
The stress of travelling to a new place, locating the office, finding parking, are all removed, mediation is taking place at home.
If there are children, it is far easier to set up the children in the next room with a game or TV, and engage in mediation without having to find child care.
The online mediation can also have a break out room, so that if the mediation does get heated, parties can be separated on screen or even mediate on separate screens throughout the process.
It is easier for the mediator. No travel involved, no stress about what time the clients are arriving, making sure they are waiting in separate areas.
Objections to it continuing could be on the basis of establishing client identity, making sure that the person you have identified through the ID is the person in front of you signing the Legal Aid form.
Online mediation can be viewed as impersonal. It is more difficult to sense the atmosphere or mood of the room online.
Body language is not as clear on screen, facial expressions are more muted and tone of voice is not as obvious, so important signals can be lost to the mediator and to the participants.
Although there can be a virtual flip chart on the screen, this does not have the same presence in the room as the traditional format and is not as versatile.
Lastly, of course, not everyone has the internet or are comfortable with technology. This in itself an be a great stress, particularly if the other person is IT savvy.
Weighing up the pros and cons of online mediation, it is difficult to see how online mediation is not here to stay. However, it is important to remember the advantages of the traditional face to face method, even if it is just the initial joint meeting.
In his article ’The Pros and Cons of On-Line Dispute Resolution’ Joseph W Goodman conclude ‘Cyber-mediation is a recent phenomenon and will likely become an increasingly effective mechanism for resolving disputes as technology advances. In the future, as online video conferencing becomes increasingly available, it will become easier for disputants to undertake face-to-face negotiations. This will address the major claimed disadvantage of cyber mediation: that it is impersonal.
Nevertheless, until video-conferencing technology becomes commonplace, it may be a good idea for parties that intend to participate in cyber-mediation to develop some rapport by having a face-to-face meeting, if feasible, or at least a telephone conference call.’