Covid 19 is making us all mediate online. But not just online. We’re mediating from home. Online mediation is different. And home mediation is even more different.
The advantages are obvious. You save travel time and cost. No venue hire. Those with travel difficulties - mobility or childcare issues can still participate.
How is home mediating affecting the way we work? The big difference is no travel. Many of my mediations take place outside London where I am based. Now, no getting up at the crack of dawn. No stress about delayed trains. No hotels. I save time and money.
Is the experience different? Yes. No physical contact. You can't shake hands. No handing round teas and coffees. You don’t enjoy the same level of personal engagement. You have to establish rapport differently.
You can’t bump into people in the corridor and have a quiet word. As we know many a mediation has been unlocked by an apparent chance meeting on the way to the toilets.
The tempo is slower. No matter how good the videoconferencing system, and Zoom is very good, there's a slight time lapse in hearing what the speaker has said. This slows things down.
Use of body language is curtailed. Usually you only see heads and shoulders. You can’t pick up the same non-verbal cues
We talk more loudly on-screen. This is harder on the ears and voice. Joint sessions are more difficult. People forget about the time lapse. They interrupt and cut off each other's sentences. There’s less laughter.
Online mediations are shorter. People cut to the chase more quickly. They don't want to spend longer than necessary crouched over a computer screen. Energy levels are higher-with no travel you can have a better night’s sleep and a better breakfast.
Home mediating is more informal. People, especially men, dress more casually. Not everybody. Barristers are often suited and booted. The settings are different. No more steel and glass with views over the Thames. Instead glimpses of bunkbeds, fridges and sofas.
Once you’re into negotiating it’s just like in the flesh. It’s not more relaxed or friendlier. Home mediation is a serious and intense business.
Settlement rates are the same. Producing settlement documents is trickier. Home printers are not as good. There’s no en suite IT department.
Is it more stressful? Yes, despite not having the stress of travel. Will the technology work? Will Internet connections become unstable? Something goes wrong at some time. But there’s always your mobile phone- essential tools in online mediations.
There are more distractions. Particularly from pets and small children. Just accept it. Achieving a work – life balance is harder not easier.
Will there be more online mediation in the future? Without a doubt. Will there be more home mediating? I doubt it. Not if people have a choice.
If you want to mediate you’ll have to be ODR savvy. But remember. Mediating in your PJs is never a good idea.