Who are the main platform providers for remote mediation and how do they differ?

Who are the main platform providers for remote mediation and how do they differ?

Produced in partnership with Chris Fitton, mediator of IPOS Mediation

No mainstream provider yet offers a video conferencing platform tailored specifically for conducting mediations so for now, lawyers must look at what is commercially available and see what best fits mediation use. 

In many ways there is little to choose between the providers: they all work interchangeably on both windows/macOS and android/iOS. And by-and-large they all allow non-account holders to join with little or no prior registration. They all offer audio and video quality, which is acceptable for mediations, volume and mute; private and ‘everyone’ chat; different screen view options; various screenshare options. This Q&A is not intended to be a technical review; instead it focuses on the main aspects which are particularly relevant to conducting mediations via video conference (VC) where there are notable differences between the platforms.

 

Break-out rooms

 

Of the scores of VC offerings currently available, remarkably few offer ‘breakout rooms’—the functionality whereby each party’s attendees can conduct their own VC meetings without being seen or heard by the other side/sides (replicating their private room from an in-person mediation).  

Now it is quite possible to conduct a mediation on a VC platform that does not offer breakout rooms—the mediator could repeatedly re-initiate separate video calls, for example each time he/she returns from having met with the other side. But because most participants would consider that to be unsatisfactory, only VC platforms that offer breakout rooms (or near equivalent) are considered here—see Remote mediation—platform comparator table.

It is worth noting, however, that if the break-out room criterion were taken away, some big-name players come back into serious contention, notably GoToMeeting (25 faces on same screen—see below) and Lifesize (13 faces on the screen, soon to be 49 faces).  

 

Faces on the same screen

 

In a mediation context, it will often be as important to see the listeners’ facial reactions as it is to see the person speaking—especially in a joint session. So viewers in a VC mediation will want to have their own screen set to have everyone’s face showing equally large, a view called ‘gallery view’ or ‘tile view’.  A typical mediation will have 10-25 attendees; although that number is well within the number of attendees platforms can accommodate in a single meeting (which is typically 100s or more), if a platform only supports four faces simultaneously showing in gallery view, that will rule it out for mediations. See Remote mediation—platform comparator table.for what is currently available with each platform shown. 

 

User experience

 

In the context of a VC mediation, participants may be first-time users of the chosen platform, and/or may not be IT-savvy. For the client attendees (maybe more so for their lawyers) it will be a stressful occasion, in which they are anxious not be disadvantaged. So simplicity/ease of use of the chosen VC platform is particularly important. Relevant factors here include: 

• will one-time attendees have to create a guest account with the platform provider? The answer is ‘no’ for all platforms see: Remote mediation—platform comparator table, though non-Microsoft Teams accountholders will have to become ‘guests’ of the host’s account

• will attendees have to download a desktop or mobile app in advance or can they join straight from their web browser? The answer is ‘no’ for all platforms see: Remote mediation—platform comparator table, though please note that the web browser-only experience has less functionality on all of the platforms, with the sole exception of google Meet (which is unique here in being web browser-only access)

• the look and feel of the user interface. There is always a trade-off between on the one hand having a sparse, modern-looking screen and on the other having all the important settings visible or easy to find. Of the platforms in Remote mediation—platform comparator table, they are all remarkably similar once the attendee is party to the VC call. With Microsoft Teams, however, the initial interface can appear a little daunting to a first-time user and getting to the VC call is slightly more complicated. This makes a pre-mediation rehearsal/familiarisation essential

 

Security

 

Keeping the discussions you have in the mediation confidential is of course extremely important, whether keeping it confidential from the other side or confidential from the VC provider and/or the outside world.  

For a high-level summary of how five of the mainstream VC platforms perform on aspects discussed above, see Remote mediation—platform comparator table. For further guidance on security issues when conducting remote mediations, see Q&A: How do I secure and maintain privacy in a remote access mediation?

 

Other features

 

Other whistles and bells available within VC software but which (for now at least) are unlikely to be relevant in the mediation context, include:


• captioning (software that transcribes onto the screen what is being said in real time) 

• in-meeting recording and webcasting (both disabled for mediations!) 

• participant chat emoji 

• attendee polling/voting management 

• automated post-meeting feedback

It is not difficult to see how some of these, once coupled with future, yet-to-be-thought-of VC conveniences could one day make having some mediations by VC the preferred option for lawyers and other repeat-players, over having their mediations in-person. 

 

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