Holding Video conferences and communication in online settings

Part 2 of my “Mediation as an example of online crisis communication—can it work?” is intended to give you an overview of the various issues you’ll need to take into account when holding video conferences, and thus communicating, in online settings. Special attention will be given to the implementation of online mediations.

I’ll present the similarities and differences between an in-person and on-line mediation appointment along with other relevant aspects. I’ll also provide tips regarding the required technology and share some of my own experiences.

If you’re looking to gain more in-depth insight into various aspects, I encourage you to consult secondary literature, such as on the following topics:

  • communication (general)
  • non-verbal communication
  • questioning techniques
  • webinar tools (to improve focus and concentration)
  • voice
  • mediation (general)

Initial considerations

As a starting point for our considerations, a mediation must be planned and carried out according to the following basic structure:

  1. Making contact
  2. Preparation
  3. Initial meeting
  4. Collection of topics
  5. Identification of interests
  6. Solution
  7. Final agreement

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll assume that the content and objectives of each phase are known.

The phases

If you consider the various phases, it very quickly becomes clear that, in principal, they can all be carried out online. None of the phases requires an in-person meeting of the participants. Thus, the given order and structure for both the on-line and in-person process remains the same.

At its core, successful cooperation depends on the basic attitude of all participants (openness, willingness to participate and find a solution, etc.) as well as the professional expertise of the mediator, including their communication skills (active listening, questioning techniques, etc.), trust-building ability, intuition, empathy, structural knowledge, etc.  All of these aspects are, at first glance, independent of an in-person or online format and can thus be applied in either case.

It’s a fact, however, that the mediator must take into account a few important points when conducting the mediation online. Let’s look at those aspects in more detail now.

Technology

As early as when making the initial contact, the mediator should consider whether the conflict case is suitable for online mediation in the first place, and whether the conflict parties are technologically able, and mentally ready, for online mediation. Do they have the right attitude?

From a technology standpoint, the following video conferencing tools for conducting team meetings, discussions, workshops and mediations have established themselves in the market:

  1. GoToMeeting
  2. FastViewer
  3. TeamViewer
  4. Cisco Webex
  5. ZOOM
  6. Microsoft Teams
  7. Adobe Connect Meetings
  8. Skype
  9. Jitsi Meet
  10. 10. Etc.

Others certainly exist as well, but these are the providers most commonly used by our clients.

The user requirements will differ depending on the software provider that’s used. For example, some video-conferencing software is browser-based and requires neither installation nor a login from the participants, while other tools are part of a software package that requires a download and sometimes also some familiarization efforts.

When selecting or deciding on the most suitable option for your case, the following aspects may be relevant:

– Hardware: smartphone or desktop computer

– Internet access (via WLAN) or dial-up number obtained in advance

– Camera (smartphone camera or webcam)

– Possibility of playing back sound (loudspeaker or headphones)

Some important points to look for in the functional range for conducting an online mediation include:

  • High-definition or low-resolution video quality
  • Maximum number of potential participants
  • Screen sharing feature
  • Ability to collaborate on documents (e.g., whiteboard)
  • Data encryption
  • Price and contract commitment

I personally prefer ZOOM for mediation processes. The big advantage of ZOOM is that meetings can be easily synchronized with your calendar. The video conferences can be recorded locally or to the cloud (caution!) and screens of several participants can be shared at the same time, which makes collaboration in mediations even more flexible.

With this provider, participants can even easily join via their smartphone and comment in the ZOOM chat, brainstorm on a whiteboard and share files. 

In a nutshell, ZOOM has what mediators need: A good overview, multiple participant/camera settings at a glance, breakout rooms that can be set up spontaneously without prior preparation and that the mediator can visit and leave again as needed, as well as waiting rooms. What’s more, there’s a chat function and the possibility for each participant in the session to share documents on their screen. ZOOM is also largely self-explanatory.

Zoom can be tried out as a free demo and can be purchased for just under 14 euros per month. This makes the respective certificate inexpensive and affordable. Clients don’t have to download it themselves in order to participate, and they don’t incur any costs of their own.

Of course, for the course and success of the mediation, it’s crucial for the technical hardware of our mediators to offer the possibility of video and audio (it’s actually happened to me that someone wanted to participate in an online mediation without their computer having video and audio capabilities!). 

Of course, as mentioned above, a participant can also connect with a smartphone, in principle, but participation is severely restricted by the small screen. For example, the participant can only see one video of another participant at a time. Participating by phone is therefore not advisable, at least within the context of mediation.

When it comes to technology, a stable Wi-Fi connection must also be enabled. There’s nothing worse in a mediation session than when the internet connection repeatedly breaks down, thus making it impossible to have an uninterrupted conversation. For this reason, it’s sometimes even better to use a LAN connection.

In addition to these hardware and software requirements, the participants should also be open to using technology in the first place. It makes no sense to try this if one party is computer-shy or simply feels uncomfortable in front of a screen. Yet at the same time, one of the great advantages of online mediation is precisely that it creates physical distance between the conflict parties, allowing each participant to remain in their personal space of comfort instead of having to show up in a strange office or meeting room. This circumstance can increase the participants’ sense of well-being by providing them with a sense of personal safety – which can greatly facilitate the mediation process.

In any case, during the preparation phase, both the technical side and the personal attitude of the conflicting parties toward online mediation should be examined.

In principle, the ZOOM whiteboard can be used to collect topics, interests and solutions, but, from my perspective, it offers too few options. The points that are noted cannot be moved and changing font colors and sizes isn’t user-friendly. I therefore recommend the following tools:

  • Conceptboard
  • Miro
  • Mural

Conceptboard is worth highlighting in that it’s a German platform that’s EU GDPR-compliant. Thus, it increases trust in data protection and confidentiality on the one hand, while also meeting the needs and preferences of the German-speaking world on the other.

Of course, 

  • Word
  • PowerPoint

can also be used for collecting points via screen sharing. Yet only the mediator can write them down and change them. All documents can be easily uploaded later with Conceptboard, for example.

ZOOM also offers a function for mood queries. Alternatively, Mentimeter can be used free of charge.

With this, let me conclude my December blog. I look forward to your comments and questions as well as your experiences. Let’s learn from each other! After all, mediation lives from communication ;-)

I’ll post my next blog entry in January 2022 and look forward to you welcoming you here again then.

Go for it!

Your crisis manager Anke

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