This guide is an exhaustive look at conducting efficient and powerful remote user research.
Once upon a time, remote research was an unfavorable option compared to in-person interviews. Some believed that conducting research remotely lacked the personal connection needed to get better data. But at Tetra Insights, we’ve always been advocates of a remote-first research strategy, and we’ve learned how to capitalize on its advantages and avoid the pitfalls. As the 2020 pandemic forced researchers to take all of their work remote, our focus on ensuring researchers can easily collaborate and analyze their qualitative data regardless of their physical location can help solve challenges for other research teams.
The Advantages of Remote Research
A Diverse Pool of Participants
At Tetra, we are proponents of remote research for several reasons, one of the most important of which is access to populations across the globe. In-person research requires either sourcing from local populations or flying your team to other locations. Research conducted remotely, on the other hand, is not only more budget-friendly but also more accurate. This increased accuracy comes from the ability to recruit the ideal participants for each project.
Convenience for Participants
One of the challenges of in-person research is to provide adequate incentives for participants, particularly if they need to take time off work and/or travel to your location. Remote participants, however, can simply join the interview from wherever they happen to be. Remote participants still need to be incentivized, of course, but at a lower cost to research teams. Additionally, while video conferencing is the norm, there are more options for conducting research. These include video diaries—a method in which participants use their phones or computers to record themselves answering research questions at their convenience. This added convenience also reduces the risk that participants will miss research sessions. Read more about the advantages of remote research.
Building Your Remote Research Tech Stack
A research project can be generally separated into three categories:
- Strategy and planning
- Research execution
- Analysis and sharing
Many research companies still rely on outdated and expensive software platforms. Luckily, successful research does not have to depend on overpriced systems in order to be performed with efficiency and accuracy.
To create a lean tech stack for modern research work, researchers need flexible, affordable, and targeted tools. Read more about how we create our suite of remote research tools.
Strategy and Planning
Collaboration and clarity are the two most important components of research planning. Fortunately, most research teams don’t need more than they are likely already using to collaborate. For example, tools such as Trello, Notion, and Google docs are free and offer very robust features for working together on research projects and getting feedback. These tools are also inclusive, giving your team a simple way to react, share their perspectives, and feel included in the process.
Trello, in particular, is a favorite among researchers and project managers for its flexibility and ease of use. It is based on a Kanban system of assigning and moving tasks along the workflow, and it’s one of the least cumbersome project-management tools around.
Tools for research execution—particularly remote research execution—have become much more accessible over the years. Effective researchers no long have to rely on feature-heavy enterprise platforms when they have options such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Webex. In fact, more than ⅔ of researchers rely on these newer technologies to communicate with research subjects, users, and customers.
courtesy of Trello
Analysis and Sharing
Before we developed Tetra Insights, we found there wasn’t an existing platform that allowed us everything we needed to do to analyze and share our research. Since this is the most critical component of research, we designed our platform to allow users to easily annotate, tag, and analyze your video and audio files in real-time. And then with just a click, you can generate and share highlight reels based on themes or topics that you’ve tagged within your research.
These features allow professionals researchers to easily analyze their work and create a repository of searchable insights. Some choose to share their insights from Tetra to platforms like Airtable, Notion, or Confluence, which allow them to make their reports visible throughout their organization. Other researchers, often those on product teams, will create clips in Tetra and then share them via Jira or Slack. This process allows teams to view and collaborate throughout their workflow.
At Tetra, we perform all of our analysis in Tetra and generate shareable reports in Google docs. It’s a simple, cost-effective system, and it works. Learn more about how to build a lean remote tech stack.
What does a best-in-class lean research toolkit look like exactly?
For modern researchers, there is no reason to invest in overpriced and stodgy research platforms. As forward-thinking organizations have learned, a flexible suite of lean-yet-powerful tools provide everything you need to perform high-quality research. Additionally, a lean research tech stack can help provide support for important ongoing research. Here is the research stack our team at Tetra users with great success:
- Google Docs (strategy, planning, and reporting)
- Trello (task management)
- MailChimp (participant database)
- Calendly (interview scheduling)
- Zoom (user interviews)
- Tetra (analysis & sharing)
Sourcing Participants for Remote Research
Recruiting the ideal participants is among the most omnipresent challenges in user research, and with remote research, it’s essential to adapt your approach.
As we noted above, your potential participant pool for remote research is literally as big as the globe. While that offers exponential opportunities, it can also feel daunting. Luckily, there is a range of remote-specific sourcing methods that allow researchers to find the right participants.
We have outlined some of our essential practices that make research successful when it comes to sourcing remote participants.
For all research, whether in person or remote, you first need to define who your ideal participants are for that study. Be sure to outline exactly who you are trying to recruit based on your goals and objectives. Next, determine the tools and methods necessary to accurately conduct your research. Take note to consider what access your remote participants will need to have to the tools you have identified. For example, will they need internet access or specialized software?
Evaluate your Sourcing Opportunities
The fact that your participants can be physically located anywhere in the world is one of the biggest benefits of remote research. Of course, you’ll need to identify those who meet your target participant profile, but you will benefit from having access to a much larger overall participant pool than you would if you were restricted to a physical location for conducting your research.
With that advantage in mind, it’s important to consider where your target participants are most likely to exist in an accessible channel.
Plan your Budget
The two primary areas to consider when planning your budget for remote participant sourcing are participant incentives and recruitment costs.
Of course, your budget for incentives is always essential regardless of whether research is conducted remotely. However, an advantage of remote research is that the participant incentive is typically less than for in-person research. When you aren’t requiring people to travel to a location or take excessive time out of their day, your incentive budget can go much further. Consider what, if anything, you will need to spend to get in front of participants.
Here are some great budget-friendly options for sourcing participants:
- Social outlets (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
- Existing customer lists and sales leads
- Guerilla methods (more time consuming, but free!)
- Free online postings–Craigslist, online forums, community support networks and organizations
- Local and national businesses and organizations
- Professional network (colleagues, coworkers, professional communities, etc.)
- Friends and family members (only those who match your target profile!)
- Very targeted advertising aligned with your ideal demographic
Confirm Interested Applicants Fit your Target Participant Profile
Once you have a plan to get in front of your target participants, you’ll need to confirm that you have truly found them. Screener surveys are critical to ensure you don’t waste any research time or money by connecting with less-than-ideal participants.
Create a short survey to confirm the details with participants. This survey should be fairly easy to generate with a well-defined target participant profile at hand.
Another extra measure that surely adds time but is critical and saves resources in the long run are phone screens of seemingly eligible participants. More than likely, you’ll want to identify and avoid people who seek out surveys and research studies for a living, as they make poor research participants. Another benefit is you can use a phone screen to test out the required software and tools that you will need to complete an interview. At times, remote sessions are derailed with technical difficulties, so you can help prevent this in advance with a “dry run.”
At this point, you should have a list of participants to select from and can move into the next phases of actually conducting research! Learn more about sourcing research participants remotely.
Establishing Trust with Remote Research Participants
It’s always critical to establish trust with research participants regardless of what type of research you’re doing. However, there are specific challenges to building and maintaining trust while conducting research remotely. As more researchers move from in-person interviews to remote interviews, many are encountering new challenges.
Tetra Insights has always promoted remote qualitative research, and we have developed strategies to help researchers can build and maintain trust with their participants when working with them remotely. Here are some key ways you can build trust and rapport while conducting remote research:
Express Your Gratitude
Communicating your gratitude to the subject for taking the time for the interview is always important, but it’s even more essential with remote research. Regarding in
In-person research allows you to physically distribute your incentives to participants before or after the research session—obviously not an option with remote research. It’s absolutely critical that you communicate expectations around when and how the participant will receive their incentive to ensure trust is established. And then, of course, follow through on your word! If you tell a participant you will be sending them their incentive via email within a week, make sure you do. Interacting with strangers over the internet can be an uncertain and strange experience, and it’s important to reduce that uncertainty and build trust with your participants throughout the entire experience.
Let Participants Know that Mistakes and Interruptions Are OK
Under normal circumstances, research subjects can feel afraid of making a mistake. This is even more true of remote video interviews, as the addition of technology can heighten fears—especially if you’re using a platform the participant is unfamiliar with. Be sure to reassure your subjects that if they have any technical difficulties or unexpected noise or visitors, it is fine and you will adapt, restart, or reschedule as needed.
Allow for “Dead Air”
People are often uncomfortable during silences in conversations. This is true in everyday life as well as in interviews, and it’s particularly prevalent during phone and video interviews. Researchers in general tend to be empathic and thus have an urge to finish people’s thoughts for them if there is a pause. It’s crucial to hold back that impulse and allow your subjects time to think and flesh out ideas. You’re much more likely to get interesting details by allowing for dead air. Make these silences less awkward by smiling, making eye contact, and exuding patience with calm facial expressions.
Pay Close Attention to Nonverbal Communication
According to research, 55% of communication is done through facial expressions. You can catch most of your participants’ facial expressions via video—especially re-watching recordings—although the quality of the participant’s camera could be an issue to consider. Of course, you will miss other body language such as a nervously bouncing knee, so pay close attention to everything you can see and to vocal inflections. Learn more about creating trust among participants.
While there are challenges in conducting research remotely, there are also exciting opportunities. Researchers are having to get creative and be flexible in their processes while maintaining integrity. At Tetra Insights, we believe a good plan, documentation, collaborating, and a clear process are the keys to success for remote research. Interested in seeing how Tetra can help with your remote research?