Tips for Remote Mediation via Video Conference

The mediation industry has been resilient with the adoption of technology to deliver dispute resolution services despite social distancing used to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s a useful collection of things to consider when using video technology that we’ve learned from the early experience.

Our Top Tips for Remote Mediation via Video Conference:

Consider the background

First, pick a spot from which you’ll run the meeting. There are some obvious things to think about here. Your video background should be professional or at least neutral, like a blank wall. Pictures and things on a bookshelf may become distractions for other participants.

For instance, an alabaster statue of an eagle that was given to me when I left the legal department of American Airlines resides on a shelf in my office. Due to the alignment of my desk and camera, it appeared to have alighted on the top of my head in video conferences. If I were taller, I could have looked like Hermes, the Greek god with the winged helmet.

Close the door

Avoid having other people visibly moving about behind you. There are already multiple tweets documenting incidents of flashed coworkers when an unclad spouse inadvertently moved through the camera’s unblinking gaze.

You should find a spot that is quiet where you can prevent family, if working from home, or co-workers at the office, from barging in. Close the door and if necessary, put a note on the outside to deter interruptions.

Find your camera angle

The best lighting is from the front while light from behind you will turn you into the darkened silhouette of someone testifying under a witness protection program. Light solely from above is generally not great. Windows are good, although not if you are in direct sunlight. A bright reading lamp bounced off a light-colored wall may work to reflect light in a softer, indirect way. If you wear glasses, as I do, you may need to work on lighting and your position a bit to avoid reflections in your glasses obscuring your eyes. A reflection that hides your eyes could convey all the warmth and empathy of the mirrored sunglasses of a state trooper in a speed trap. The optimum camera position for most people is at approximately eye-level or slightly above, and if you are using a separate webcam, not the one at the top of your laptop, you need to keep it near your screen.

Remember that if you are going to look someone in the eyes, you need to look into the camera, not at their image on the screen, and seriously, that takes practice. Also consider your distance from the camera. You should appear in the image to be at approximately the same distance as you would be if you were meeting in person – not small and distant and not so close that your face fills the screen like the end of a Crazy Eddie TV commercial. 

Sound quality matters

Sound quality is important, leading many to suggest using a separate microphone. A full, over-the-ear headset can be a distraction to look at as well as to wear, so try to keep the microphone somewhat discreet. Several members of the ADR Notable team use AirPods, which have excellent sound quality.

Also: think about background noise that you may be so accustomed to that you tune out. I recently had someone mention after a video conference meeting that the sound of chirping birds had been audible through my open window. On some days in my rural home setting that could have sounded like the soundtrack of a Tarzan movie.

Audio feedback

When you get ready to use an online video system, turn off or mute any other devices in the room where you will be. You do not want the sound of another phone ringing to interrupt or distract the conversation. On your computer, mute system sounds like the ‘ding’ when an email arrives and be sure to turn off notifications. You could be in the middle of sharing your screen when the notification feature pops that embarrassing email into view.

One slightly more technical issue – Wifi bandwidth. Colleagues have reported that their home Wifi was unable to handle the whole family working from home: two kids separately streaming online classes (or video games) plus a spouse also using video conferencing takes a lot of bandwidth. It may be time to upgrade your wireless router and maybe even your package from an internet service provider. Also, be sure you can use a broadband hotspot, such as your mobile phone, as an alternative way to access the internet just in case.

Have a backup plan

You should consider a backup plan for your video conference. If the video conference fails, make sure all the participants know what to do. That might be to dial in to a separate audio-only conference line or other arrangement.

The key is to ensure everyone knows to do the same thing so you can promptly regroup and collaborate on any next steps.

Rules of engagement

There also need to be some rules for the participants that are somewhat unique to video conferencing. First, you’d like them to have been as careful as you in selecting their location for the video conference, avoiding distractions and interruptions by the means described above.

But not being in the same room raises other potential issues. It should be made clear to all participants whether the online conference will be recorded. If not, no one should be recording it using any device. Similarly, it should be clear who is participating and that there is no one sitting undisclosed just off-camera with any of the participants.

Avoid the “zoombomb”

Finally, there is the growing issue of “zoombombing” – a new word in our lexicon that refers to an uninvited hacker getting into the video conference event, either to simply disrupt or for other nefarious reasons, so named because the Zoom system seemed to be the first to be attacked. You will need to pay attention to the security of the video conference system itself. Every system has steps you can take to help preserve the privacy and security of your video conference. We’ve listed some resources here.

Once you think you have your setup arranged, test it with a friend or colleague before using it with clients.

We at ADR Notable hope these tips are useful and look forward to working with the dispute resolution industry to deliver additional helpful technology.

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