Here is Giuseppe's response:
If parties have never participated in mediation before and therefore they don't know what mediation means, how it works, what happens if they can (or can't) reach an agreement, and what a mediator can (or can't) do for them, whenever possible I prefer to have an online pre-mediation session with each party - for a number of reasons.
To establish a personal, face-to-face rapport with them, and explain what they can expect to happen during mediation
To assess the parties' motivation to listen to the other parties' perspective and try to work out an agreement that works well for all of them
To find out who else should participate in their mediation: i.e. who has the power to make the parties' mediated agreement succeed or fail
To test that the parties' video/audio connection works well, if they decide to continue mediating online
To ask the parties whether they prefer to meet online or face-to-face
In short, my basic assumptions are:
I can do my job (as mediator) equally well - whether face-to-face with the parties or online
I leave up to the parties to decide which setting (face-to-face or online) feels safer and is more convenient to them. Whatever works best for them, works for me as well
For your information, when I started mediating online workplace cases, I thought that there is only so much time (60-90 minutes) that parties could spend in front of their computer, before getting tired. I was wrong. The online mediation of one workplace case for the United States Postal Service lasted 7 hours - non-stop, with only a 15-min break.
The main reason why that particular mediation was successful was that I had managed to have the right people (with the right knowledge and decision-making authority) at the online mediation table, even though they were hundreds of miles away from each other.
Giuseppe Leone, founder and project manager of Virtual Mediation Lab, an online mediation project sponsored by the Association for Conflict Resolution Hawaii Chapter