Online Workplace Mediation in Covid times: is it good or bad and is it here to stay?

Is the increase in online mediation one of those very rare benefits arising from lockdown? What are the pros – and cons?  Do they vary according to the type of mediation? Will it live on past lockdown? How can we maximise use of online mediation?

We all know -or should know – (particularly lawyers) that (in the main) life’s too short to litigate.  Litigation is stressful, costly, time consuming, uncertain and may be damaging reputationally.

Yet, employees and their lawyers so often reach out for the ‘law laden’ grievance which is too often the first step in the litigation process.  Neither grievances nor litigation are about resolving issues and finding a solution, but more about the ‘blame’ game, both parties being sure they are right and determined to fight with that in mind.

ODR (online dispute resolution) is not new, but since March 2020 it has replaced in person mediation in a big way. I have done about 40 online mediations, mainly using Zoom. And now I am a fan – for most cases. 

To name a few benefits:

  • It is quick and easy to set up.  It could happen the next day – if you have your mediation agreement on hand and the parties are available,
  • It’s cheaper: as there is no need to hire rooms or incur costs and time travelling. it may be easier for parents – though finding a quiet space may be trickier,
  • Mediation can easily be held over more than one day, which is sometimes more convenient and occasionally what the parties need,
  • It can be more flexible.  An employee who does not want to meet the employer can remain in a separate room with no risk of bumping into the employer – or attend with no video, 
  • It is as easy to arrange 1-1 ‘meetings’ between the parties (with the mediator in the room).  Breakout rooms are useful, though not essential,
  • The mediator can have an online pre-meeting with a party very easily,
  • Mediation can be more informal.  There is less ‘dressing up’ and we are all sitting at home, with the same issues of uncertain internet, barking dogs, children interrupting, the delivery arriving.   Everyone understands  the ‘new normal’ and we can share experiences. It may be a leveller.

There are downsides.  Where a relationship between two employees has broken down it is easier to mend when they are in the same room and able to chat.  It is harder to read body language online.

In summary: most mediations can be more easily and quickly done online. The success rate is, in my experience, as high as in-person mediations. 

Top tip: expect and prepare for technology glitches – even your own. They can always be resolved.

What do you think? Let’s start a conversation including top tips.

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