If a survey was conducted as to whether mediators preferred online or face-to-face mediation then the answer would invariably be that most mediators would prefer face-to-face interaction with the parties. The reasons for this are simple. Most disputes are of a personal nature and are as a result of the personalities or characteristics of the person themselves. It is important for the mediator to be in a position to see for himself/herself the subtle nuances of the personalities as the process evolves.
It is true now due to a number of technological advances and the availability of fast reliable broadband that online meetings have progressed. Mediators have taken advantages of this in different scenarios and there are certain advantages and disadvantages to both traditional and online mediation.
There are a lot of relationship-centred disputes that can be resolved online to a degree, but which in reality can only be solved by the interpersonal atmosphere created by the intimate, and direct intervention that is achieved by the skill and experience of the mediator and the participants, all getting together in the same (real) room.
With face to face meetings the mediator can pick up subtle shifts in positions or approaches and thereby instinctively know when to suggest a caucus meeting or indeed when a break is required. It is easier for the mediator to speak to parties separately while they are in the same building rather than navigating rooms on a screen leaving one party in virtual limbo for an indeterminate period thereby increasing the risk of disrupting the flow of the process.
The interaction and rapport gained on the day with the parties or their teams gained through face to face interaction is not easy to replicate online.
There is a benefit where the mediation is coming to a natural close and there is the prospect of getting the deal done which in turn can focus minds and help to move to an agreement. The online mediation is not a traditional meeting and the quality of communication is invariably weaker and therefore the participants may not pick up on the prospect that agreement is within reach and will focus their mind in the pursuit of that goal.
Because of the technology involved there is a need for strong and stable internet connection. In addition there is the comfort or competence of either party in using the technology to contend with.
On the other hand you have less expense in that you do not have to pay for hotel conference rooms for the mediation in the traditional sense.
With Covid 19 still in the community many people are uncomfortable being stuck in a room with other people who are not in their family or support group and online mediation is a valuable tool to be used to offset this apprehension.
In some circumstances, some people cannot stand to be in the same room as their opposite number but are willing to negotiate an agreement online rather than face the worry, cost and uncertainty of a civil litigation.
In some commercial disputes in which issues revolve around money matters only, online mediation can be advantageous when the parties are not dependent on personal interaction and are fairly straightforward, with no side issues, or where there is a significant geographical separation. Mediation involving online sales where the parties never meet anyway is a case in point.