To Zoom or not to Zoom

Faced with a 10 week High Court trial beginning on 8 June 2020, our client had to make a difficult call. We were in level four Covid-19 lockdown. Our client wanted to mediate. However, lockdown restrictions meant that we could not mediate in person. To go ahead we would need to mediate by Zoom.

More than 60 people were involved in the Court case. Our client understood that a mediation by Zoom attended by 60 people would be a New Zealand first. A decision had to be made to be brave and go ahead, or postpone until the restrictions were lifted.

Our client felt caught between a rock and a hard place. It wanted to explore settlement but was concerned that a mediation by Zoom might not work. The clock was ticking with no sign of the trial being adjourned, so a quick call needed to be made. Our client knew that 60 people mediating online would be challenging and that it would be entering into unchartered territory.

Ultimately our brave client instructed us to set up a Zoom mediation. And so the fun began. Firstly, getting 60 people on board with the concept that “we’ve got this” and “we can do this” was a tough gig. We were met with a lot of resistance about the very notion of online mediation. Resistance that came chiefly from fear of the unknown. It was an exercise in positive reinforcement to get everyone on the bus. We had to be creative and confident even though I too had my own personal concerns about whether it would work.

Zoom created challenges. 60 Zoom tiles on one computer screen meant the faces were too small. We realised that you cannot prioritise the tiles. Then we worked out that if participants turned off their video and audio, Zoom would bump their tile down the line so the first screen of tiles was occupied by the main players. This was one of a number of trial-and-error lessons that we took away from the experience.

We tried to solve the technicalities before our mediation with a trial run. Lighting, microphones, cameras, technical ability variances and room layouts were identified for some as being problematic. With so many participants there were a myriad of pre-mediation issues to consider. Most were ironed out before the mediation began (ironically on day two the mediator had his laptop on an ironing board but that’s another whole story in itself)!

Different skills are required for the mediator when mediating by Zoom. More direct driving of the process is needed. If someone is taking up too much oxygen, a mediator at an in-person mediation can change the dynamics by physically moving around the room. On Zoom, there are other ways to manage challenging situations and having an experienced Zoom mediator is a wise investment.

In the end, our talented mediator, brave client and courageous participants were rewarded with a successful mediation. There are heaps of learnings that I’d happily share, including some unexpected benefits of mediating by Zoom. If you would like a free mediation by Zoom workshop: tips and tricks, give me a call.

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