Running Remote Research Sessions
Updated: Apr 23
User experience research suffers from the baggage of formal labels being applied. Research has become rooted yet distant with phrases like “thick data” and “deep research”.
Likewise “Remote Research” seems almost apologetic, something that is a poor substitute or stand-in. But that should not be the case. Remote Research can be a powerful tool for uncovering customer insights and behaviours.
In late 2019 I was part of an Agile team, with my responsibilities covering research and strategy on a discovery project. On account of my team being distributed across the world, combined with the geographic spread of end-customers, I started to think about the most effective way of conducting research remotely.
The Rise of Remote Research
In the past, you would run your research session in the evening after work and respondents would show up. With more people moving to flexible ways of working, combined with advances in video technology, a lot of barriers have dissolved.
Technology has made it easier to conduct user research at speed. The time spent travelling to interview subjects has drastically shortened with video conferencing.
The trade-off with Remote Research is the lack of proximity to interviewees where body language and facial expressions convey so much power, yet is obscured and flattened. I wish I had an elegant answer to solving this tough nut to crack.
Another factor to take into consideration is the cost of conducting Remote Research. Subscribing to various soft services such as video conferencing, transcribing and sourcing of subjects accumulates quickly.
My Approach to Remote Research
Never underestimate the time needed for conducting research. However, there are software tools out there that can help accelerate the process of planning, running, and synthesising research.
Recruiting subjects for a research project takes a lot of time and effort to get right. The time spent writing a screener and sending it to to a research recruitment specialist can take on average 4–5 days depending on the search criteria and the recruiter’s bandwidth.
I’ve been using respondent.io to source subjects for my research projects. The service handles all of the administrative hassles such as incentives and schedules in one single platform.
The size of respondent.io pool of subjects has its advantages. There’s enough variety to meet most research demands and in a short space of time compared with my experience of traditional research recruiters.
One thing nobody tells you about the research process is the suffering around scheduling time with subjects. Time blocking your calendar for conducting interviews is not very practical in my experience. It lacks the flexibility to cope with changes, which inevitably happens in agile ways of working.
A less brittle tool is Calendly, which smartly schedules interviews based on your calendar. Fully customisable, Calendly syncs with your calendar and allows you to set specific times for conducting interviews. Should a subject need to reschedule, it’s magical algorithms rearranges it automatically.
A paid feature, which is worth paying extra for, is the ability to schedule interviews across team members. The process of interviewing a large volume of subjects can be accelerated effectively.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of apps I’ve had that have come close to closing the divide between technology and magic. Otter.aihad me laughing when I first started using it out of sheer joy. Otter is a transcription service that uses AI to decypher interviews. It is also lightning fast when used to transcribe in real-time. I have also found that by using Zoom to record sessions, the A/V files can be transcribed directly by Otter in a short space of time.
So if you are still intent on running a Remote Research session, here are my final tips:
Don’t be wedded to one tool as part of your workflow. If you have a preferred transcription or video conference service, feel free to substitute them out.Have a plan for using each tool. Things break, people forget, a button you thought you had pressed to record was missed*. Having a contingency plan in place helps de-risk things.Tools are no substitution for research rigour.
Notes* In a session I accidentally stopped Otter recording by moving my phone ever so slightly into a better position to pick up the sound voice of a softly spoken subject. I only found out after the session had ended. Luckily my laptop had also recorded the session via Zoom.
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