And The Survey Says…It’s A Prime Time To Be Online

And The Survey Says…It’s A Prime Time To Be Online

It’s been said that necessity relieves us from the embarrassment of choice. In March 2020, the emerging COVID-19 pandemic made it imperative for much of the world to stay home when at all possible – whether we wanted to or not.

If mediators desired to continue their practice, a pivot to facilitating online mediations was often the only way forward. In the months since, we’ve learned that proper masking, physical distancing, air filtration and vaccinations can make a return to in-person meetings possible. But do we all want to go back to the “before times”?

The National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals (NADN) recently surveyed 750 of its members to discover how they have been managing since the onset of the pandemic and whether they prefer a full or partial return to in-person meetings or envision a future entirely online.

Members of the academy’s sister branch, the Canadian Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, are privy to this survey’s fascinating results. Although I cannot reproduce the results fully, in this blog I’ll discuss the general sentiment among my colleagues and what we at Cooper Medication foresee in our own future practice.

Have Online Platforms Changed the Nature of Mediation?

After an initial period of downtime in Spring 2020, many mediators moved partially or completely online for a year. Sometimes the shift to digital platforms was necessary to abide by public health regulations, active “stay-at-home” orders, or other travel restrictions but, in some cases, mediators and/or their clients simply preferred to meet virtually out of an abundance of caution.

The NADN survey found the vast majority of mediations conducted by its members were online in 2020-2021 and the volume of mediations they conducted generally stayed the same as in pre-COVID times. Survey respondents also indicated that settlement rates overwhelmingly stayed the same as in previous years.

The latter finding will be of great interest to both counsel and their clients as we move to a new normal where some mediators may offer both in-person and online options in their practices. If settlement rates remain the same irrespective of the setting (in-person or remote), the parties may choose to opt for one type over another for other reasons.

What Do We Like About Online Mediation?

A majority of the NADN survey respondents suggested that cost and time efficiencies were the greatest benefit of online mediations. Logging off a mediation and taking a few steps between your home office and the dinner table is much more appealing than spending time stuck in rush hour traffic. Aside from saving transportation costs and commuting time, online mediations save participants conference room rental fees and catering if a mediation lasts more than a few hours.

Respondents also noted that online mediations were “just as effective”, produced “better engagement” and “better attendance” and tended to lead to faster resolutions. In terms of attendance, one of the positives we’ve found by doing virtual mediations is the grater prospects of having decision-makers present who may not have been able to attend in-person sessions previously.

What Do We Dislike About Online Mediation?

The lack of personal interaction available in online settings was selected as the biggest drawback of virtual mediations by far. We are a social species; losing the ability to speak in person, gauge body language, and find opportunities for casual interaction among and between parties is a negative consequence of conducting mediation online.

Not surprisingly, technical difficulties were also mentioned by a significant portion of respondents as a drawback. Dropped calls, poor WiFi signals, software glitches, unfamiliarity or unease with the technology and other technical issues have all caused annoyance or even scuppered mediation sessions. In our experience, technical difficulties became less frequent as we established best practices for online mediations and offered assistance to help attendees learn about the platforms we used prior to a session.

Respondents less enamoured with the virtual setting also indicated that these sessions could produce less engagement and lower settlement rates, while a few noted that in some cases one party (particularly the plaintiff) wanted to be physically present.

What Does This Mean Going Forward?

At the time the survey was conducted (June 2021), the vast majority of NADN members’ scheduled mediations remained online and most respondents planned to keep their mediations online – either entirely or as the default option unless parties requested an in-person session. As the director of the Canadian Academy of Distinguished Neutrals noted when he shared these survey results: “The Zoom genie has left the bottle and has no intention of returning as we head into 2022.”

At the start of this post, I noted that it’s been said that when a choice is made for us, it saves us the embarrassment and challenge of making a choice. I disagree. Empowering a person to make a choice – an informed choice – about the type of mediation they want to schedule is something to be celebrated.

At Cooper Mediation, we will always follow public health guidelines to ensure safe in-person meetings. We have no qualms about moving our practice entirely online if a situation like the pandemic makes it a necessity again. However, when circumstances allow parties to choose between in-person or online mediations, we believe offering this choice is a net benefit. 

As mediators who have extensive experience using both in-person and virtual meetings, we are happy to discuss the pros and cons of each type generally or with specific reference to your own circumstances. Rest assured, that whatever type of mediation you choose, the members of our team will do our utmost to ensure the session is as productive as possible.

Send Us Your Feedback

We’d also love to hear from you on your sentiment on going digital. Was this a necessary evil that became a blessing in disguise or are you itching to get back to in-person mediations? Click here to send us your feedback.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vance Cooper, Toronto Mediator and ArbitratorVance Cooper is the principal of Cooper Mediation Inc. Vance devotes 100% of his professional time to mediating and arbitrating primarily personal injury and insurance cases. He serves as an arbitrator in loss transfer and party disputes under the Insurance Act. Vance is a Distinguished Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, a Chartered Mediator of the ADR Institute of Canada and a Certified Mediator by the International Mediation Institute. He was  inducted to the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Academy of Distinguished Neutrals (CADN).

Vance can be reached at vance@coopermediation.ca or (647) 777-4011.

To schedule a mediation with Vance, visit: https://coopermediation.ca/vances-online-calendar/



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