by Betsy Ross, LICSW, CGP
Building on my prior post about a first, completed virtual divorce case, Part Two, will outline solutions used to address these and includes further thinking on how to effectively practice collaborative divorce, virtually. Please note: These solutions can be applied to virtual divorce mediation as well.
It is hoped that you will share your experiences, concerns, and solutions here, too, as we all collaborate in bringing our best skills to this new way of working.
SOLUTIONS TO VIRTUAL CHALLENGES
1. Increase Communications
Between Professionals and Clients:
Taking the time to prepare clients for the upcoming deliberations is perhaps even more essential in virtual divorce. In my case, I spent a great deal of time talking with each client individually about how to personally manage the emotional and psychological intensity of virtual team meetings. We identified strategies that each could employ to help themselves tolerate the emotions, better hear and understand the words, and use their voices to ask questions, state interests, and participate as productively as possible.
The professional team spent more time talking together throughout this case and the focus of our briefings seemed to shift a bit. The usual amount of discussion regarding information exchange occurred, but there was an uptick in the amount of our brainstorming together to anticipate issues and craft success strategies for each meeting. These were based on the coach’s input from client pre-briefs as well as the attorneys’ perceptions of what each client was experiencing. Additionally, new strategies were crafted for signaling/checking in with each other during meetings.
2. Use of Breakout Rooms
Frequent use of breakout rooms during team meetings helped the professional team and clients throughout the process. These were used to check in with clients, clarify meaning, re-connect with the professional team, and momentarily lower the stimulation level (for some or all of us). Breakout rooms can also be utilized for private discussions between a professional and client as well as for some shuttle diplomacy.
On Zoom, breakout rooms can even be set up in advance so that the meeting ‘host’ can help participants to nimbly move from the main room to a more private, less stimulating setting, as needed.
3. Grant Blanket Permissions, In Advance
Clients seem to do better when they know, in advance, of tools they can use to help themselves tolerate the tension experienced during any type of divorce deliberations. In virtual collaborative work, a new variety of supports is available. On this case, clients were encouraged to take care of themselves, when needed, by temporarily switching off the video, muting the microphone, or even stepping away from the screen. Additionally, having tension relievers handy (stress balls/fidgets, herbal tea, protein snacks, etc.) was also helpful. Overall, clients were encouraged to take responsibility for keeping themselves, and their process, as calm and productive as possible.
4. Utilize Other Communication Tools, Simultaneously
Having a second communications device on hand was helpful to this process. While video platforms allow a degree of private and public side ‘chat’ while in meetings, during breakout room times, these may not be available. Having a device handy to send a text or email to another professional was helpful in our case (and talking these possibilities through in advance of meetings was essential).
5. Planned vs. Unplanned Breaks
Virtual communication experiences (for work or for pleasure) seem to require different levels of energy and attention vs in-person interactions. Because virtual collaborative divorce meetings tend to run for hours, these can be particularly intense and draining. Talking through, in advance, how and when to incorporate breaks is important and can help all team members keep themselves refreshed and in productive mode. In my first case, we built in a greater number of brief bathroom and stretch breaks as well as some longer snack/meal breaks which were all effective. We opted to stop the action and take additional breaks based on the needs of any particular team member, the topics at hand, and the emotional climate in the meeting room.
6. Transitioning Strategies for Before and After Meetings
Taking time to ask clients what they will be doing directly before and after a virtual team meeting is important. Strategizing together on how to build in an opportunity to hit the psychological ‘pause’ button before dashing from one activity (work, parenting or caretaking) into a collaborative meeting will contribute to the meeting’s productivity. This also communicates the importance of each team member’s contributions to the ultimate success of the process.
7. Establish a list of Guidelines for Virtual Meeting Communications
Because many aspects of virtual meetings differ from the in-person variety, establishing some guidelines that specifically speak to these, in advance, is advisable. Helping all team members to be mindful about, for instance, not speaking simultaneously, reframing pauses, tolerating the loss of visual and audial detail, deserve consideration and team attention. A framework for working with these can be created to help all team members make the successful shift to the virtual collaborative world.
8. Account for Differences in Bandwidth
Some clients (and professionals) have adapted better to virtual processes than others. Every client faces their own version of the unique challenges and circumstances that has brought us all to virtual work. Keep this in mind as you consider and plan topic agendas, times of day for meetings, privacy issues, the scheduling of meal breaks, etc. Be prepared to approach and do things a bit differently.
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