Choosing what platform to use for your online mediation requires a certain skill.

Alas, since COVID-19 hit, my baking skills have not improved, I have still not finished watching Season 3 of Ozark and the garden is still in desperate need of a good weeding. But what I have done is rapidly expanded my skill as a concierge.

What is a concierge? The Oxford Dictionary defines a concierge as:

  1. a person, especially in France, who takes care of a building and checks people entering and leaving the building
  2. a person (in a hotel) whose job is to help guests by giving them information

Now that mediations have moved online, I have expanded my pre-mediation preparations to ensure that the online platform that the parties wish to use will best fit the nature of their dispute and provide them with the best environment to resolve the dispute.

While I have found Zoom to be a very flexible platform for online mediations, some organisations are moving away from it for fear of security breaches. While I am comfortable that those issues can be addressed, that is the topic for another time. What I am finding is that increasingly parties are requesting to conduct mediations via Webex or Microsoft Teams. I have licences for all three platforms and am comfortable on all of them – but the question is, what is the best platform for the dispute. Obviously there are many more platforms available, including newer bespoke platforms like Immediation and Modron, however I have confined my initial comments to the three that I am receiving the most request for at the moment (although, I hear that both Immediation and Modron are continually evolving and should be watched).

Here are a few key features of each platform which may impact the “mediation environment” and your decision on which one to use for your online mediation:

Zoom – Two features I find particularly useful in Zoom are the “waiting room” and the breakout rooms. When parties join a Zoom meeting the mediator host can activate a “waiting room” in which all participants enter. The mediator will then allow admit the parties either one at a time, or in groups. I tend to admit the plaintiff (with or without their legal representative) first and spend time with them making sure that they comfortable with the technology and troubleshoot any tech issues. I then move them into their separate virtual breakout room so that they do not need to “unexpectedly meet” the other parties  when they are not expecting it, or without their legal representatives present. Once all parties have arrived and have finished any preliminary discussions in their breakout rooms, the rooms can be closed and everyone pulled into a joint session. The number of breakout rooms that can be created within the meeting is almost unlimited so if it is a multi defendant matter then this feature is critical. Finally, as Zoom is fairly intuitive to join I find that even participants with limited technological skills tend to be able to navigate the platform with ease.

Webex – it is very simple to join a Webex meeting, which may be useful for a party that is less technologically savvy. However, Webex does not have a “waiting room” on entry, so I ask the parties to stagger logging in to the meeting so that I can assist with any tech issues and can ensure that the claimant, in particular, is ready to proceed. Once the parties are in the joint session the mediator can put them on hold – or into the “lobby”- but they cannot speak to each other while in the lobby. So what happens is that the parties tend to do the joint session and then the rest takes place by telephone conversations between the lawyers and their clients, and the mediator and the various legal representatives. If there is to be an apology or direct personal response, then either the mediator sets up a separate Webex meeting with the claimant and the apologist, or the apologist dials into the joint session and the mediator then puts everyone else into the lobby – I suspect that this may be disconcerting for some claimants as they will need to take control of the technology themselves.

Microsoft Teams – this platform was primarily designed for people within the same organisation to collaborate, so joining a meeting by someone outside the organisation can take a few attempts – often I need to talk people through joining a meeting (ie going via the browser and bypassing any suggestions to create a Microsoft account). If we are proceeding via Microsoft teams I will set up several separate Microsoft teams meetings – one for the joint session, one for each party and their team, one for mediator discussions and one for the legal representatives. I then invite parties to each meeting depending upon whether they are entitled to participate in that meeting. The benefit is that within each meeting the parties can confer via video link and can leave a meeting and join another meeting that they are invited to (rather than having multiple telephone conversations). A separate meeting can also be set up by the mediator for the apologist and the claimant which can take place via videolink. Therefore separate video conversations can be taking place simultaneously. To move between meetings, participants do need to physically hang up from meeting and rejoin other meetings via the original invitation – although once it has been done once it is pretty seamless thereafter.

We are in interesting times, the way we work and mediate is being forced to adapt. When discussing online mediations with clients it is important to consider the nature of the dispute and the unique features of the parties. As a mediator, it is my role to provide you with that information and guide you into the “building” (AKA online platform) that will best suit the matter.

If you would like to discuss any aspects of mediating in ways that do not involve face to face meetings, please contact me on 0421 048 456 or by email – jsomerville@r3resolutions.com.au. You can also connect with me on LinkedIN to share information in relation to mediating generally.

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