Remote user research is an approach to conducting research where the researcher facilitates participants online using technology such as video conferencing, digital surveys, online usability testing software, and digital analysis tools. Researchers are now, more than ever, looking to leverage remote research approaches to ensure they provide meaningful insights to their organizations.
Although there are some limitations of remote research, there are also many benefits. Unlike traditional approaches where a researcher may facilitate research in-person, in a lab, or focus group, conducting research remotely can be significantly faster, more reliable, and scalable. It can reduce the time it takes to get to actionable insights.
Performing research remotely can also make it easier to recruit participants as you’re not constrained by location, in-person scheduling, or equipment. Similarly, remote research enables researchers to observe and collect feedback from participants in their own environment or using their own devices.
We’ve broken down remote research into two parts – the collection phase where you conduct user research digitally using various tools, and the analysis phase, which includes remote collaboration and analysis of the data you’ve collected.
While in-person research is excellent for building a human connection, remotely conducting your research collection has many benefits, including:
The nimble nature of remote research has fostered increased inclusivity and accessibility for our research participants; it enables us to overcome typical geographical barriers to connect with a broader range of user types.
Caitlin McCurrie, Senior Design Researcher at MYOB, chats about how remote research can also accelerate turnaround:
Conducting interviews remotely means you can schedule more sessions in your day. There is also no need to waste time setting up, traveling, and a reduced risk of no shows. Finding the right participants can also be much faster when you remove your geographic limitations.
Remotely conducting research can be a blessing to research teams that need a fast, cost-effective, and scalable way to get insights. But of course, every business is unique, and the way you drive your research initiatives could differ vastly from the rest. Luckily, there are a bunch of varied methodologies and technologies you can use to help develop an effective remote research practice in your organization.
Interviews are one of the most common remote research methods. Here are a few tips to consider before you get started:
Remotely facilitating a usability test differs from doing it traditionally because you’re not in the same room as the participant. And regardless of whether the test is conducted in-person or remotely, it can either be moderated or unmoderated.
A facilitator is present, allowing interaction with the participant, so both can ask questions or talk through any issues instantly.
The same problems that exist in face-to-face studies can become amplified in remote usability tests. This could be that participants might feel awkward being watched over, and facilitators might struggle to find a balance between letting users know they are there to help and distracting them.
Dovetail’s User Research Lead, Jess Nichols added:
Remote usability testing helps to mitigate some of the face-to-face challenges, but there are other considerations unique to the remote experience. Participants are less aware of someone watching over them in a remote setting, which leads to them not sharing their thoughts and experiences more readily.
A participant tests alone, meaning that researchers may need to be more upfront with participants to use the think-aloud protocol and carefully put the questions together because they don’t have the opportunity to ask follow-ups. On the plus side, you’re more likely to get insights quicker as participants can take tests in their own time instead of fitting into a set schedule.
Tools like Lookback (for working products) or Maze (for designs) can take the headache out of remote usability testing by allowing you to share task details with your participants and record their experiences.
Remote diary studies are a great way of conducting longitudinal research, especially if you’re after data on behaviors or actions that happen sporadically, or if your research falls under a level of sensitivity that would not work well under direct observation.
Digital diaries can be set up in several tools. Cloud-based file sharing and live collaboration tools like Google Forms and Google Sheets are great to keep information up-to-date and organized. Then there are platforms like Indeemo and dscout that enable diary updates on the go to include videos, photos, and audio to help understand a participant’s context and experience.
Remotely conducting research gives you access to a larger pool of participants, which could be advantageous when looking for a specific set of requirements. Here are a couple of tools that’ll help you find remote participants:
Caitlin McCurrie, Senior Design Researcher at MYOB, added the following tools:
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a massive war room or synthesis wall to analyze your research data. In fact, sometimes, it’s easier to analyze your research and produce actionable insights remotely. Some reasons include:
Digital analysis also reduces the barrier to entry for your colleagues to peer review your tag taxonomy during analysis, helps you build a shared language to describe the research insights, and makes it more accessible to get everyone involved.
Lastly, when physical barriers are removed, departments that were once siloed can collaborate with greater ease online.
While remote research changes things, it’s not all bad news. Being remote has its upsides, and with more online collection and analysis tools than ever before, it’s never been a better time to be conducting your research remotely.
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