As companies shift to remote work and everyday operations are affected, many researchers are asking how to provide value to their stakeholders and continue meeting research goals. These are unprecedented times, so earlier this month, we hosted a webinar to address these concerns and shed some light on strategies our team is using to design impactful remote research. Our AnswerLab panelists, Bob Berry, Molly Kessler, and Kristin Zibell, shared their lessons and tips on how to bring a human-centered approach to your remote research. If you missed it, you can download the recording here.
We had so many thoughtful questions from all of you, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to answer them all on the webinar. We asked our panelists to help us respond to a few of the more common ones here to continue the conversation. Here's what they had to say.
1. How do you manage remote research with groups of participants? Any tips for managing the conversation?
Research in group settings allows for conversations among participants with diverse opinions and can provide a lot of data in a short amount of time. Sessions like focus groups, for example, are usually done in person to foster conversation amongst the group, but can easily be shifted remotely with people participating from the comfort of their own homes.
When doing this remotely, choose the size of your group and the length of your session carefully. While you may be comfortable moderating a group of 6 participants for an hour in person, a group of 4-5 for 75 minutes might be more manageable for a remote setting. This gives you extra time to ensure everyone gets to contribute (and that any technical issues can be addressed without eating up too much time).
During the session, make sure participants who are not talking are muted, and be sure to start with brief introductions from the whole group so participants feel comfortable with each other. When moderating, be aware of any participants who are less talkative and ensure you’re probing to make sure everyone gets to share their opinion. A great way to collect quick data points and encourage everyone to participate is by using the chat box to conduct a “poll.” Use those answers to jump-start the conversation and “call on” individuals based on their answers.
- Molly Kessler, Senior UX Researcher
2. What are some of the biggest challenges you've overcome when conducting remote research?
One of the biggest challenges with remote research is preparing for and successfully integrating all the different technology platforms, prototyping tools, and session management methods to create seamless interactions between our participants, client teams, and researchers. Many of our clients use specialized tools, and as a result, we've learned how to manage a number of platforms, ensure security of sensitive prototypes, and create ways for teams to communicate and collaborate during sessions, while everyone is working from a different location.
Another critical capability we've now mastered is transitioning and adapting many typically face-to-face interactions for remote methods. These include focus groups, planning and brainstorming sessions, post-research workshops, and other collaborative team meetings. We're using a variety of tools and platforms and a number of innovative technology approaches to connect remote teams dynamically for these purposes.
- Bob Berry, Principal UX Researcher
3. What’s the best method for compensating your research participants remotely?
To answer this question, we asked some members of our Research Operations team to weigh in on their best practices and what they’re seeing across our recruiting partners.
With remote research, compensating participants is not necessarily as straightforward as in-lab research where they sign out with a host and pick up a check or gift card in-person. During this time, we want to compensate participants in the best way possible, and sometimes that means asking participants what they prefer. Especially now when everyday tasks like going to the bank to deposit a check aren’t as feasible, mailing a check might not be the best option. E-payments, like a generic prepaid gift card that allows the participant to use the incentive just like cash, are usually the way to go. You can also let them choose another specific retailer or online site to receive a gift card for instead. And most importantly, communicate with the participant how long it will take for them to get paid. Usually, our recruiting partners process the payments at the end of sessions, rather than at the end of a participant’s specific session.
4. Do you have tips for managing session days when working from home?
Working from home means creating a space to be productive and do dedicated work, and managing sessions is no different. I make sure that my office space is separate from my living space. Of course, a separate room is ideal, but if you have a screen or virtual background, that works too. I always make sure my internet connection is fully functional and strong, either using a WiFi booster or an ethernet cable. I also make sure I have the tethering/hotspot option on my phone ready if my connection fails.
When planning and conducting the session, I make sure to give my full attention to what the participant is saying and doing. With remote research, it’s even more critical to allow time for full answers, share my reflection of what I heard them say, and ask any clarification questions. Make sure your environment is quiet—close your windows and use a good headset to limit any distracting background noises! When organizing your session schedule, try to leave 15 minutes between sessions and time for a meal midday to take solid breaks throughout the day.
- Kristin Zibell, Senior UX Researcher
5. Some of my coworkers believe they need in-person research, not for the quality of respondents, but for the internal team to collaborate in the backroom environment. How would you recommend we create a remote research experience that works for them?
For many of our clients, a significant benefit of conducting research is gaining the collaborative environment and aha moments of the backroom. At AnswerLab, we pride ourselves on providing this experience for our clients. But going remote doesn’t mean you have to forgo that environment and its benefits. Obviously, you can still observe the research over video conference, but here are a few things we recommend to build collaboration into that observation experience:
- Do a final walk through or pilot session before the research to see how research stimuli will display during sessions and clarify final questions and concerns
- Schedule debriefs and check-ins over video conference throughout the day to align with the researcher and synthesize insights as you go
- Keep an open line of communication from the ‘backroom’ to the researcher, and decide how and when to communicate follow-up questions and clarifications during sessions
- Use collaborative tools for virtual storyboarding, post-it walls, and note taking so your coworkers and product teams can follow along from their own homes
- Hold a remote workshop post-research to create a roadmap for future development and build alignment across your organization
We recently shared a number of tips and strategies our team uses to create a virtual backroom in-depth that might be useful as well!
6. What tips do you have for delivering insights remotely to retain quality stakeholder engagement?
During research, I like to ask stakeholders to take notes on specific topic areas and list quotes they heard or behaviors they witnessed. I’ll also ask them to take notes on the topic of “This made me think” to share their opinions on what they observed. These collections of notes provide me insight into what the team is noticing and interpreting and helps shape my debrief and reporting.
After each session, I usually send out quick updates over chat or messaging to let stakeholders know how it went e.g. “Participant five went well, able to elaborate on responses, interesting insights on how it relates to gaming.” I’ll also include the specific insight that relates to the research questions to add color.
After the day of sessions, I recommend sending out a debrief or summary of themes that directly relate to the research questions and immediately scheduling a readout of the full results. Communicate at every step of the process to explain what to expect during the read out and insights that surfaced during the process to keep your stakeholders engaged.
- Kristin Zibell, Senior UX Researcher
7. What is the role of UX research in responding to the current pandemic?
User research and the UX community now have a new and more critical role in the business world, and the world at large. Given the current pandemic, online services have now become far more critical to daily life. Businesses and organizations will now have to focus more of their efforts online, as their customers rely much more heavily on the internet and connected devices. In that process, the UX profession is here to ensure all those new and expanded experiences work well for everyone. And, we have to help those companies do all that remotely, while we're still social distancing and flattening the curve.
Beyond business needs, now more than ever people are using technology to connect not only in their work environments, but also with their loved ones. UX researchers will play a significant role in helping companies and providers understand those new personal needs of the millions changing their lifestyles to cope.
- Bob Berry, Principal UX Researcher