Graham Boyack: Great opportunities for online mediation

Graham Boyack: Great opportunities for online mediation

Graham Boyack

As everyone is forced to adapt to new circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic mediators are no exception. That said, it would be fair to say that a number of mediators have been conducting their ­practice online for a number of years. I am aware of one mediator who has ­conducted a global mediation ­practice from Hawaii for a number of years and he has not been alone.

At the end of March, Scottish Mediation held its regular meeting of workplace mediators online as a check-in, to share experiences of working during the lockdown and how people have been adapting.

Several things struck me immediately – the first was that even with some dodgy broadband connections the experience was good. Everyone could be seen and heard, and apart from the distraction of looking into people’s homes, we had the sort of ­discussion that you would expect if everyone had been able to travel and be in the room.

The second was that it was easier to facilitate as people understood the need to put their hand up when they wanted to speak, and ultimately if needs be, I could simply switch their sound off (at no point was that necessary).

The final thing that struck me was that if we held meetings online more regularly, more people may be able to participate from across Scotland. For those who normally must travel to such meetings, there could be ­considerable savings in time and money and benefits to the environment. I know from a conversation with a colleague who had a successful medical consultation online that there will be many different sectors and organisations looking at future impacts too.

We discussed people’s experiences of providing online mediation and one of the key messages that came out was that if mediators are not confident using the technology then their clients will sense this and would be unlikely to opt to use it. The only way people will become confident is to practice, get used to the technology and figure out how it works best for them and their style of mediation.

The same goes for clients, and ­during this period there is a great opportunity to use online platforms for initial conversations, to test things out prior to the mediation and, if ­necessary, to coach parties on how they can be most comfortable online. For a country like Scotland there are potentially great opportunities from mediating online.

One area discussed not just at our meeting, but also in a webinar I Zoomed into last week, was the question of security. Part of the attraction of mediation is the ability to have open and frank conversations that remain confidential. The consensus was that you need to take normal precautions and check the software you’re using (there’s a lot to look at in terms of privacy GDPR and other issues), use private links and passwords to enter online meetings and be clear about what is expected from everyone. It is also important to remember that meetings where ­everyone is in the same room face similar issues, they just present themselves differently.

The need to use private links and passwords was underlined last week when a seminar I was involved with was ‘Zoombombed’. Suddenly, ­random people were effectively spamming our meeting. The only solution was to restart the meeting with private links and passwords. It was a great way of learning the lesson without any damage being caused.

One of the main tasks Scottish Mediation carried out as the lockdown commenced was to consider how to provide our helpline services with no one in the office. We first decided that we would encourage people to email our admin account with queries and then added that people could leave a message on the helpline number if they didn’t have access to email. Staff can then access the messages externally and contact people from home to respond to their queries. It meant that last week our first lockdown third sector mediation took place. We have also been able to respond to ­queries providing information, directing people to other organisations better suited to helping them or simply talking things through.

The other things we are doing is making sure we have check-ins with staff, some formal, some we call a tea break. One of the things working online doesn’t easily provide for is the spark of chatting to colleagues about work and more particularly things that have nothing to do with work.

I’m hopeful that we’ll learn ­lessons from the experience we’re going through and come out with some better ways of working at the end of it.

Graham Boyack is director at ­Scottish Mediation. This article first appeared in The Scotsman.

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