Courts and offices may be closed, but parties continue to have disputes. While many mediators may not be able to resolve those disputes in person, most of us have pivoted to offering to mediate online. Many practitioners have questions about how one can mediate online, and whether it is as effective as in person mediation. Here are a few issues for you to consider when deciding if you want to mediate online or whether you want to wait until you are able to mediate in person.
What are the options for remote or online mediation?
Remote or online mediation can be text based (using traditional email or text messages or utilizing a more sophisticated dispute resolution platform like Crek or Modria), voice based (telephone or voice over internet), or video based (Zoom is most mediators’ platform of choice because it is encrypted, but even FaceTime can work). Mediations can take place in single sessions or over a period of days or even weeks and can utilize more than one of the above forms of communication.
How do I choose the best form of online mediation for my needs?
The first step is to assess your or your client’s access to and comfort level with technology. If you or your client doesn’t have access to a good WiFi connection in a PRIVATE setting (a room in a home or office where you or your client can be by yourself), then Zoom or other video mediation probably isn’t a good choice. Some people are really comfortable utilizing all modalities of technology, while technology causes a great deal of anxiety for others. If technology truly makes you or your client uncomfortable, text-based mediation through email or text message or voice- based mediation via conference call may be best for your needs. If you or your client have never heard of Zoom but are willing to give it a try, do a test run or two to ensure that you or your client understand how Zoom works and would be comfortable using it as a mediation tool. Mariani Mediation Services LLC does trial Zoom sessions as part of all video-based mediations.
The second step is to think about how you or your client best make decisions. Do you or your client process information quickly and make choices rapidly? If so, video or phone communications likely will work best. A single session mediation might also work well. However, if you or your client likes to take time in making decisions and in fact exhibits decision paralysis when pressed to make quick choices, a text-based mediation or one occurring over several days or even weeks may work better. Use your mediator as a resource to help determine what mediation format would work best in your particular circumstances.
How does a video (Zoom) mediation work?
It’s pretty simple. Your mediator will send you a link to join a Zoom meeting. If you are on a laptop or a desktop, you simply need to click on that link, select “Join by computer”, and you are in! Downloading the desktop Zoom app on from www.zoom.us does make the user experience a little better, but it is not necessary if you do not want to go through the hassle of creating an account. If you plan to attend via smartphone or tablet, however, you will need to download the app. Zoom has terrific tutorials on it support page (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en.us). We recommend using a laptop or desktop whenever possible because you have easier access to more features and a larger video screen, which is helpful if your mediation is going to last for more than an hour or so, reserving your phone or tablet as a backup plan.
Once you click the link, you will be placed into a waiting room. Your mediator will admit everyone to the meeting when all necessary participants have joined the waiting room. The mediator can then conduct joint sessions in the main room and can use breakout rooms for caucuses. Zoom allows the mediator to share screens and even has a whiteboard feature should the parties wish to use those functions. Basically, you can do just about everything you could do in a conference room on a Zoom call.
The mediator will also ask participants to provide a cell phone number so that the mediator can text them privately if needed; the mediator likewise will provide the participant with their number for texting. One such example is when wishes to rejoin a breakout room but doesn’t want to interrupt private discussions. Texts also are useful if one or more of the parties loses connection to the Zoom meeting or for troubleshooting Zoom settings.
What are your top five tips to make Zoom mediations better?
First, understand where the audio and video controls are located. On a desktop, they are located in the bottom left corner of your Zoom screen. Click on the carrots to show the available options. You may need to try several of the audio and video options to see which are the correct settings for your computer.
Second, face the light rather than have any lighting behind you. If you have lighting behind you, the other participants may not be able to see you well.
Third, keep it quiet! Make sure you are in a quiet, private location with ringers and other alerts turned off. We recommend using the buzzer settings instead so that you can receive alerts without distracting noises. Also, please make sure you do not speak over or at the same time as others on the Zoom – it’s really difficult to hear when multiple people speak on Zoom. Please also tell others in your home or work space not to disturb you.
Fourth, if you plan to share your screen at any time, please close all applications or screens on your computer apart from the ones that you want to share to minimize the chance that you will show other participants information that you do not wish them to see.
Finally, have a backup plan in case there are technological glitches. This may be rejoining the meeting on your smartphone instead of on a laptop, participating by phone rather than using video, or agreeing to adjourn to a different time.