Workplace Mediation -- Online Or Face-To-Face?

Meeting face-to-face in a room to resolve workplace issues is still viewed by many mediation participants as a better method for discussion than video conferencing.

The main reason for this preference is that people want to 'see the body language and feel the demeanor' of the entire group in order to ascertain what is truly being said. Some find that it is too difficult to appreciate the options that are under review without this sensory input. "You have to be able to see hesitancy and feel conviction," says one employee relations attorney.

When digging a bit deeper, some of our clients also concede that they have a shaky faith in technology. They do not want the flow of conversation interrupted by the awkward disconnects and failures suffered in recent years. "Can you see me now?"

Good points, all. And as someone who has handled thousands of workplace matters, I too have a tendency to prefer face-to-face meetings. It just feels more productive. And I get to do something in a conference room that I really can't do online. I get to cover the walls with flip chart papers holding pertinent information for the meeting -- goals, agreements, outstanding issues.

Budgets and time constraints, however, are so demanding today that online mediation is a growing choice for businesses. It reduces cost and eliminates unproductive travel hours.

Most importantly, technology is offering far superior products for teleconferencing. Providers are delivering stronger and steadier WiFi and Internet connections. And more people are working from non-traditional locations (often home offices) that allow for schedule flexibility and comfort. (You know, wearing shorts and sandals below the pressed blouse or dress shirt when on a video call. The occasional dog barking in the background.)

Technology platforms that create, share and store documents while online are becoming popular. And software that allows me to "paper the walls" with e-flip charts are available at a tenth of the cost of more traditional methods. (We'll showcase what we believe to be the best of these online mediation products in upcoming months.)

Online or face-to-face? This is a choice that blessedly exists. But it is worth noting that workplace mediation is seeing steady and growing interest in the online option.

For me, it just might be time to change an old habit -- and begin to encourage online mediation equally rather than discourage it subtly.

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Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 400,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.