A recent online Zoom mediation with three parties and 12 participants gave us a chance to reconsider some best practice when dealing with multi-party, multi-participant mediations.
Roger’s mediation didn’t have quite so many participants, but yours might.
These are our 10 top tips:
1. Supporting the parties from well before the mediation date to prepare in detail for the mediation can set up a more productive session on the day. This could include a briefing note to set the scene, explain how the process works and ask the parties to consider in advance different potential scenarios for settlement, including their WATNAs (worst alternative to a negotiated agreement) and BATNAs (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)
2. Ideally, the parties feel comfortable with the Zoom technology; but it’s still useful to avoid making assumptions about Zoom skills and instead we suggest arranging a pre-mediation Zoom meeting with each party. This gives a chance to practice using the Zoom technology and you can share some practical guidance in advance. (https://rogerlevittmediation.co.uk/online-mediation/) This session can also be used to answer any questions on the briefing note and to help prepare the approach for the mediation date
3. Pre-allocating the breakout rooms can save hassle and time on the day, including a separate breakout room for the mediator and observer. It’s also worth considering setting up a couple of spare rooms to give you flexibility, e.g. a separate discussion with lawyers from each side. If everyone knows in advance which breakout room they’ll be in, that gives them the comfort of knowing where they’ll be, which is an advantage you’re unlikely to have in advance of a face to face mediation meeting.
4. It’s important that everyone knows in advance who will be attending so there are no surprises, and so that the break out rooms can be allocated with certainty. This means that each party should also confirm there is no-one with them, off-camera
5. Checking your own IT is crucial – sound, position of camera, background (most people choose bookshelves or pictures – not a bright window), WIFI strength, and whether your laptop has an overnight software update scheduled that needs 60 minutes to conclude on the morning of the mediation.
On the day
6. Working collaboratively is crucial and the mediator has the scope to set the tone of the mediation with this principle (also helped in the preparation above). This takes some time, but can make a huge difference throughout the day.
7. Patience is also needed – the mediator has the challenge of managing expectations both in advance and during the mediation. Checking in with all parties periodically while discussions are ongoing to provide updates is particularly important with multi-party mediation, where the time spent waiting for the mediator may feel extensive. Even where negotiations may be progressing slowly, parties really appreciate an update on the process to let them know what is happening.
8. Resilience – online mediation, as with face-to-face, aims to conclude on the day of mediation and it’s not unusual to continue working until late to achieve a settlement agreement. Roger’s recent mediation lasted 12 hours, which is a long time to be on Zoom. Regular breaks are advised, but not always taken.
9. Travel worries disappear. For multi-party mediations in particular, Roger has found it is hugely beneficial to meet by Zoom compared with face to face. The pain of juggling the travel /location logistics disappears in an instant. It is also often easier for people to share the same screen remotely, when they would not share a room
10. Last and definitely least – don’t conduct a mediation on your birthday! Roger was fortunate: he was able to get away in the nick of time at 8pm. Others might not be so lucky.