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Home » Are Virtual Mediations the New Normal?

Are Virtual Mediations the New Normal?

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Employment Law

Virtual mediation has indeed become increasingly popular and widely adopted, especially in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in accelerating the use of virtual platforms for various purposes, including mediation. While it is difficult to definitively predict the future, it is reasonable to expect that virtual mediations will continue to be a prevalent practice even after the pandemic subsides. Here are a few reasons why virtual mediations may become the new normal.

Differences Between Virtual and In-Person Mediation

Virtual mediation and in-person mediation differ in several key aspects. The most apparent difference is that virtual mediation occurs remotely, with participants joining from different locations using video conferencing platforms. In contrast, in-person mediation involves all parties physically present in the same location, typically a neutral venue or a mediator’s office.

Communication and Interaction. In virtual mediation, participants communicate primarily through video and audio channels, relying on technology to facilitate discussions. Nonverbal cues and physical interactions may be limited, affecting the ability to read body language and establish personal connections. In contrast, in-person mediation allows for face-to-face interactions, where participants can observe nonverbal cues and engage in direct, physical interactions.

Document Sharing and Handling. In virtual mediation, documents are typically shared electronically through file-sharing features of the video conferencing platform or dedicated document-sharing tools. Participants view documents on their screens. In contrast, in-person mediation often involves physical documents that can be physically exchanged, handled, and reviewed collectively.

Technology and Technical Issues. Virtual mediation relies on technology, including stable internet connections, video conferencing software, and compatible devices. Technical issues, such as internet outages, audio/video glitches, or platform malfunctions, can disrupt the mediation process. In-person mediation avoids reliance on technology and minimizes the associated technical challenges.

Mediator’s Role. The mediator’s role may differ slightly between virtual and in-person mediations. In virtual mediation, the mediator may need to adapt to the online environment, ensure technology is functioning smoothly, and manage virtual interactions effectively. In-person mediation allows for more direct engagement and physical presence, facilitating the mediator’s ability to observe participants and control the dynamics of the mediation.

It’s worth noting that the suitability of virtual or in-person mediation may vary depending on factors such as the nature of the dispute, parties’ preferences, geographic distances, and the availability of resources. Mediators and participants can choose the format that best aligns with their needs and the specific circumstances of the case.

Benefits of Virtual Mediation

Virtual mediation offers several benefits, which have contributed to their increasing popularity. They allow participants to join from anywhere with an internet connection. This eliminates the need for travel and saves time and costs associated with commuting or accommodation. Parties can participate in mediation from their own homes, offices, or any other location, making the process more convenient and accessible for all involved. For this and other reasons, virtual mediations can significantly reduce expenses for all parties. Travel costs, including airfare, transportation, and accommodation, are eliminated. Additionally, there are no expenses related to renting a physical venue or catering services. This cost-effectiveness makes mediation more affordable and accessible, particularly for individuals or organizations with limited resources.

Virtual mediation offers greater flexibility in scheduling compared to in-person mediations. Parties can schedule sessions at mutually convenient times, taking into account time zone differences. This flexibility allows participants to fit mediations into their existing schedules more easily, reducing conflicts and delays. Additionally, virtual platforms often provide features that enhance efficiency during mediation. Participants can share documents electronically, use virtual whiteboards for brainstorming, and utilize real-time chat for communication. These tools streamline the mediation process, making it more efficient and potentially saving time compared to traditional methods.

While virtual mediation offers these benefits, it is important to consider the nature of the dispute and the preferences of the parties involved. In certain cases, in-person interactions may still be necessary or preferred for effective resolution.

Some Drawbacks of Virtual Mediations

While virtual mediation offers numerous advantages, they also come with certain drawbacks.

Virtual mediation relies heavily on stable internet connections and reliable technology. Technical issues such as internet disruptions, audio or video glitches, or platform malfunctions can disrupt the flow of the mediation and hinder effective communication. These issues can cause delays, frustration, and may require technical support to resolve.

In virtual mediations, participants may miss out on important nonverbal cues that can aid in understanding and interpreting the emotions, intentions, and reactions of others. Body language, facial expressions, and other physical cues may be less visible or easily misinterpreted on video calls, potentially impacting the effectiveness of communication and the ability to build rapport. Also, virtual mediations may lack the personal connection and rapport-building opportunities that can arise from in-person interactions. Building trust and fostering empathy may be more challenging in a virtual environment, which could impact the overall atmosphere and dynamics of the mediation process. When dealing with complex or emotionally charged cases, the absence of physical presence and the inability to have face-to-face interactions may make it more difficult to manage heightened emotions or navigate intricate legal or technical aspects of the dispute effectively.

It’s important to note that the significance of these drawbacks may vary depending on the specific circumstances, the participants’ technological proficiency, and their comfort level with virtual platforms. Mediators and participants can take proactive measures to address these challenges and adapt their approach to ensure effective and successful virtual mediations.

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