With the pandemic-induced distancing still in force, UX research has been more or less forced to be conducted remotely. Ever since the outbreak, UX researchers have gone the remote way to conduct their studies. So, why after all this time, would there be a need for a post like this one. Because there is a difference between conducting remote UX research and conducting remote UX research like a pro. Here then are 5 tips to help you ace remote research.

5 Tips to Conduct Remote Research Like a Pro

With most companies switching to work from home setups, a primary advantage of remote research is that it has led users to be more comfortable and authentic conversations on video calls or sharing screens. But besides this mandated reason, remote UX research also works in a standalone manner – it is the only way to have a geographically-dispersed user group, it is also a great method to resort to in case of tighter budgets. It is a go-to method for getting fair results under time constraints or when large sample sizes are warranted.

Before we head to the tips, let’s run over the basics of the technical requirements of remote research.

  • Conduct a trial run of the tool you will be using to conduct the online research with a colleague or friend, even if you are well-versed with it. This will help you in fine-tuning the instructions you’ll be giving to your participants for the exercise.
  • Plan for contingencies, for technological glitches are bound to occur. Be ready for phone dial-ins, keep web links ready for users to join in. The trial run you conduct will help fine-tune your prep.

Prepare a Thoroughly Specific Research Plan

No UX exercise can commence before having a razor-sharp strategy/plan in place. This acts as a guiding light throughout the duration of the research exercise to ensure that nothing goes awry. Prepare to share this with stakeholders who may be situated across the globe. Here are the key sections to include –

  • Background: This should cover all the background information about the project, its purpose, the team involved, and the duration.
  • Goals: This section covers the overall and specific goals for the UX research exercise. It is expected to be a brief overview of what the exercise will cover.
  • Methodology and Schedule: Include a brief explanation of the methodology you intend to use. Cover points like the type of research, number of users, the tools/ software to be used to conduct the research. Create a schedule that includes the sessions planned and participant data to be filled up as the research progresses. This helps monitor the progress of the study.
  • Contingency Preparation: Remote research functions on online tools, so make sure you plan for any contingencies such as poor internet, the inability of the participants to use the tools correctly, or somebody miscalculating the time based on time zones. Pro tip: It would help to ask users to join, say, 10 minutes ahead of time and take a trial run to check if everything is on track.
  • Outcomes: What do you plan to extract from this research? A prioritized list of recommendations to improve usability? Recommendations to increase the product’s utility? Detect usability barriers? Whatever it may be, list out the expected outcomes to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the purpose of the research.

2. Be truly present and attentive

It goes without saying that the research exercise holds more value for you than the participants. As the researcher, it is important to stay 100% focused on the session while it’s on – this is not the time to multitask. Be it responding to a message on Slack, or looking at who sent you that email, facial expressions and eye movements are a giveaway on video calls. Be truly present and ensure that the session has your full attention. Not only will this help you extract more juice from the sessions, seeing you as engaged may spur your participants to become as involved.

3. Jot down EVERYTHING!

It goes without saying that you will have to make provisions to record the sessions with due permissions and onboard moderators wherever required. This is absolutely necessary when you want to go back to studying the sessions in detail and make use of the moderators’ observations. Gathering research data is a complex and voluminous activity, as we all know. This is why it does not make sense to rely on your contextual memory to retain every single thing.

Especially when you’re conducting multiple interviews in a day with different users in the workflow, things can meld into a blur at the end of it. Rigorous note-taking is the essence of data gathering, even when you’re recording your video sessions. Any mental notes you make in the background during a live session have to be captured then and there – you may not always be able to get them back when you’re going through the recordings later on.

4. Go for ‘Show, don’t Tell’

In case of remote research, your participants are in their work environments, on their work computers – just that they won’t have you lurking over their shoulders, looking at what they’re doing. So besides verbalizing their experience, ask participants to share their screens as they go about using the product. The participants are likely to feel more comfortable to share deeper insights as they recall their experience, and you may also observe some interesting quirks in the ways they use the product.

5. Remember, You’re Going to Present this Data

Research does not end when you’re done interviewing the users or tabulated the data. You need to analyze it with accuracy and then present it to stakeholders. In the enterprise environment, especially, you can encounter some level of cynicism from the C-suite about the research findings, more so when the results run contrary to their expectations. How do you combat this?

While there isn’t a singular way to deal with skeptical stakeholders, you can always try some workarounds. For example, your findings can carry more credibility when you include photographs of the participants in action during the research, or videos of their most poignant statements. You can also include pointers from your data synthesis exercises to demonstrate how the findings came about.

All of this can help to truly demonstrate the power of UX research – that the findings have been the result of a planned, scientific, and logical exercise, and that nothing about it is even fleetingly random. Once people see the methodology and science behind research, they’ll be much more receptive to the insights.

Creating great user experiences begins with gaining a deep understanding of your users, their behavior, motivations, and goals, all of which are revealed through UX Research. With most workplaces going the remote route, this is the time to make the most out of our remote UX research expertise. Do make the best use of these tips to fire up your remote research exercises.