Skip to content →

Remote User Research Tips

I have typed these tips up very quickly based on my experience of doing remote research (on a Sunday morning with my little one looking over). I will add to it, but please send over your tips to add in too.

NOTE: In this climate of Coronavirus, it is our responsibility as researchers to make it explicitly clear to participants at the start of *every point of contact* that these are difficult and unprecedented times, we totally understand if they no longer want to take part OR if they decide not to take part closer to the time. They are welcome to withdraw/cancel and we totally understand if they don’t get in touch with us to cancel.

To product/senior managers: in this current climate your user researchers and team will probably need more time than usual to conduct the full cycle of research. Give them time and flexibility.

Recruiting tips

  1. Use a tool that is most likely to work for your users and doesn’t require login/creating an account. Zoom or GoToMeeting is working well for many (make sure it’s not blocked on your own government/work PCs laptops before purchasing).
  2. Send an initial invite email. Make clear to participants in this email that they will need a headset or webcam if you want to test on PC/laptop. We’ve had so many professional participants whose tech does not work.
  3. In this initial invite email, we send a Calendly link to participants to book in specific slots. This makes it a lot quicker and easier, and on the Pro account Calendly will send reminders and text messages too.
  4. In the Calendly invite, among other screening questions, ask for two phone numbers (if they have them).
  5. After participants have booked themselves in, send another email confirming they have been booked in. Give them the link to join and instructions on how to join. Repeat the information about the tech they need, and give them your/colleague’s number they can call now if any questions or on the day if they need help to get in. Send them also at this point the consent form (we use Smartsurvey so it is very easy for them to fill in).
  6. Two days before the session, give them a call and see they are still available and check with them they have the tech needed (you may want to skip this step or the next one in this climate).
  7. Day before the session Calendly send them a text reminder or you can manually text them to confirm and remind them no problem if they can’t take part.

Note taking

  1. Brief note takers on how to note take and where to note take
  2. Have a clear note taking document with most of the questions you are planning to ask (if an interview).
  3. There are different approaches one can use to note taking and many are online. I have used Google spreadsheets, Balsamiq, Google docs, Miro and Trello. Try them out and use what’s best for you. I personally would use a different note-taking approach dependent on the type of research method and also what the team are familiar with too.
  4. If you are doing usability testing, ask your developers if possible to place page numbers on the prototype discreetly in a corner. It makes it is so much easier to note take, conduct the analysis and make recommendations.
  5. Tip: If you copy and paste from a spreadsheet into Miro it changes each field into a sticky note.

At the research session

  1. Arrive in the room 10-15 min early in case participant is early and make sure observers are in the room 10 min before, all muted.
  2. Wait for 5 min after session start time to call participant if they haven’t arrived.
  3. Be prepared to help them on the phone to get to the virtual room
  4. Be also prepared for the session to be cancelled and make your observers aware of that beforehand
  5. I use the same link for all participants but I do lock the room as soon as participant arrives. Has worked perfectly so far. Also let observers know if they drop off the call, they wont be able to get back in (but they can Skype/slack message me).
  6. Do make small talk about the current situation. Try and remain positive but do reassure them that they can stop or take a break at any point, and you totally understand.
  7. Ask them to hide anything confidential if you are recording their screen.
  8. Reassure them any data they place into the service will not be saved (users can be concerned the information they put in may over ride existing one if they are an existing user)
  9. During the session, at a few points, ask them if they want to take a break.
  10. Tell your participant how many observers/notetakers there are and why they are there (taking notes) and ask them if that’s OK.
  11. Lock the room (so no one else enters by mistake or if they are testing they can get in)
  12. Be prepared to give them control of your PC/laptop if their sharing screen doesn’t work
  13. If they are struggling with a specific thing, ask them if they are happy for you to take control of their PC
  14. At the end, make clear to participants when the online voucher will be sent to them and thank them.
  15. Finish on time!

Post-research session

  1. Send them a thank you email with the voucher
  2. Let them know they can contact you if they have any questions/queries.
  3. Conduct the analysis as a team. Depending on how you have taken notes, this may be using Miro, Balsamiq, Trello, or even a Google doc.

Tools/Aids to use during the session:

As well as conducting straight forward usability testing sessions or interviews, you can use tools like Mural, Miro, Whiteboard, Padlet, Google docs to conduct other methods if they will help you gain more useful/deeper insights. A list of possible research methods you can use are listed here. You can also use the content testing highlighter method using Google docs.

Be prepared though that these platforms may not work for participants on their PC/laptop and may put additional stress on participants. Try and go for tools that don’t require participant login. Alternatively, you may want to consider more creatives approaches similar to one my colleague used. She used Mural to draw a blank flow chart. During the session, when she asked the participant how s/he does a certain task, she shared her screen which had the empty flow chat and she typed in there the steps the participant took (as the participant narrated it), and worked with the participant to fill it in and check it was correct (hence creating an as-is-map).

Other tips

  • If it is your first time doing remote sessions, run a pilot session with a colleague/friend and don’t invite observers to the 1st session besides your trusted note taker friend.
  • The first few may feel rough. That’s OK. It takes a while to get into the rhythm
  • Sharing your webcam is helpful, but bear in mind their internet connection may not be as strong as yours. It is trade off, and for many of our users, it has been OK without video.
  • Do not mandate participants use their video.
  • Keep at least 30 min between sessions. 10-15 min to de-brief with observers and a 10 min break. In these anxious times, you may even want to consider a longer break.
  • Have back up note takers
  • Work in the open so others can pick up the work/cancel sessions if need be.
  • Don’t forget your users with accessibility needs, lower digital skills and hard to reach users. Use non-digital methods to recruit them. You can run sessions online with them but you will need to spend more time before the sessions supporting and helping them, and the sessions may need to be longer too so you may want to schedule in a break too, or consider separating into two sessions.

Published in User Research

One Comment

  1. Dr. M Zahid Khan Dr. M Zahid Khan

    Thanks for such details. Much needed and very useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *