How to optimise observing remote research sessions
by Amy Hunter, User Experience Consultant

How to optimise observing remote research sessions

It is fair to say that since the world switched to remote working it has been slow to revert. Not only are we seeing this in our towns and cities with people continuing to work from home as part of a remote or hybrid working model, but we are also still seeing this in our working lives when we run research sessions. And this continues to have us all thinking as to what the long-term implications are of this shift. 

Let’s consider this from a research observation perspective for a minute. Back in an earlier life I would be travelling here and there, darting across the country to run research sessions in various locations. Quite an effort for me, but these would almost always be attended by curious and committed members of the client team, who were all keen to see first-hand how users experience their product/service. Fast forward to today, and I and the team conduct most research sessions remotely, allowing client teams to watch live from the comfort of their home desks or sofas! No less curious and committed, but I question what we are now missing in this new world. 

From my experience this new-not-so-new remote world offers many advantages – easy access for both participants and observers to take part, definite time–saving implications (with the removal of travel), and participant recruitment can cover a wider geography. However, the bigger picture is two-fold.  

Firstly, without all being in the same room watching the research together it can be much harder to create a natural flow of conversation. The ability to share and build on what we are collectively observing is more complicated to manage. Making decisions based on user-centred insights can then take longer. Of course, we use online chat channels with our clients and stakeholders, but there is a natural delay before notes ae share, by which time the user may have moved on.  

Regrouping, albeit briefly after each session, to share key observations, often opens further discussions between researcher and client, which can lead to better collective decision-making. It can also mean that immediate buy-in can be achieved for any design changes.  

Secondly, the sense of connection we share with others in-person is lost. Think about the shared nods in agreement when you all spot an issue that is already on the agenda to be tackled. Or perhaps the collective stifles of a giggle as you all realise something small that has been overlooked until now “How did none of us spot that before?!” Leaving the room at the end of the research having shared this time together will undoubtedly support stronger relationships fuelled by shared understanding and appreciation of how users interact with your product. 

We have been challenging ourselves to think about how we can do more to enhance the experience of observing our research sessions, even when the research is being conducted remotely. So here are a few ideas that we implement: 

  1. Arrange to view the research in-person and together, watching from same room if possible – bring back the post-it notes, drinks and delicious snacks! 
  2. Alternatively, why not set up a watch party so that we you can all join a call to watch a stream of the live session at the same time. You can then promote the best way for everyone to keep and then stay in touch with each other, either by unmuting to share thoughts in the moment, or using the chat and emojis to share reactions 
  3. Give digital note-taking boards a whiz to encourage your teams to collaborate by capturing reactions, thoughts and insights they are observing, as well as sharing comments on any notes we make to build up conversations. We use Miro, which we set up and always offer – we’re then on hand to keep the online discussion going! 

Ultimately this is about making a real effort to encourage your wider team to dedicate time to view the sessions live – just think of the signal this gives to the commitment to the research by dedicating this time – this should not be underestimated. 

It is important to note that I by no means dismiss remote research, which is just as fruitful for generating user-led findings and recommendations as in-person research. But I miss the personal interactions shared from in-person research, yet recognise that our world is, mostly, remote.  

We must therefore harness the technology at our fingertips to get together remotely, watch our research together, react together, and capture our notes together. This requires a bit of extra effort but will bring value beyond the findings and insights. Enjoy!

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UX Consultant Emma Peters

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