Mediators Like Online Mediation and Other Verifiable Facts

It is common to hear people observe, reflecting on the pandemic, that things will never go back to the way they were. There is certainly good reason to believe that virtual meetings are now a fact of life. If you “zoom” you are either moving fast or teleconferencing on Zoom, capitalization optional, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary. Commentary about online etiquette abounds. Teleconferencing platforms have shifted their focus from basic functionality to enhancements that blur our messy offices and erase our spots and wrinkles, clearly concerns of a mature market. Demand for “credibility bookcases” to frame our online faces with symbols of culture and learning has meanwhile led to increases in sales of physical books.

The same shift from novel to normal can be seen in mediation, a subject that I previously wrote about here. The pandemic has obliged mediators to relocate their practices from the physical to the digital worlds. Many mediators who did not like the disruption to their practices have now embraced online mediation. Yet there remains skepticism, particularly about communication and trust. Many worry that something important is lost when rapport-building is pixelized. Is this justified?

Last year, I began a survey of mediator attitudes about their online experiences and their perspectives on the digital future. I circulated a questionnaire of 10 substantive questions to mediators with online experience beginning in late December 2020, about a year after the pandemic first began disrupting physical mediation practice.

The questionnaire was translated into 8 languages. Respondents range from regional practitioners to recognized global thought leaders in Who’s Who Legal. Most have practices that are predominantly commercial. The questionnaire was shared by various individuals and organizations including the International Mediation Institute, the International Academy of Mediators, and mediate.com. By the time the survey closed on 1 May 2021, the questionnaire had generated nearly 500 responses.

This post provides an overview of some of the findings, which will be published in full with analysis later this year. The information here is limited to English-language responses to the questionnaire. There were roughly the same number of responses in English as in the other languages combined. Respondents in this category reported to have practices focused on the Americas (49%), Europe and Central Asia (34%), the Asia Pacific (18%), and Africa (4%).

How has mediation practice changed online?

Respondent mediators observe that the online environment has enabled participation by party decision-makers who are more senior (according to 36% of respondents), a finding with potentially significant implications. Many also report shorter mediation days (44%). Respondents attribute this to Zoom fatigue and to accommodating parties joining at irregular hours and from different times zones.

Mediators also identify various changes in