With the recent and sudden shift to remote UX research, we know that many people have questions about going remote and could use a little guidance to bring a sense of normalcy to their working lives.

So last week we hosted a live AMA session where our panel of expert UX practitioners answered your most pressing questions, particularly focused on the practicalities of running remote user research.

Hosted by Lee Duddell, our Senior UX Director, and featuring contributions by Paul Humphrey, UX Research Manager at BGL, Griffin Epperson, UX Researcher at Nutrien, Kuldeep Kelkar, Senior VP of UX Research at UserZoom and Rima Campbell, Senior UX Director at UserZoom , this session answered questions on everything from remote best practices, scaling UX research, to tips for maintaining productivity while working from home.

To watch the full video, please click the following link:


Meanwhile, we thought we’d share a handful of our favourite tips and recommendations from the panel…

Do you have any tips for making sure remote sessions run as smoothly as possible?

Kuldeep: There are two options… The first one is you can get on a call and do the tech check either a few hours before the session or 24 hours before the session. And yes, that’s a lot of work, because if you’re running 10 sessions, that’s probably 10 one-hour sessions, and then the three checks 24 hours before the session. So, it’s a lot of coordination and planning, but that’s the option.

The second option is, if you tell the observers that their session is going to start at 10 o’clock, you tell the participant that the session is going to start at 9:50. You leave the first 10 minutes for all the technology challenges that you can work on right before the session to make sure that you can hear the participant, you can see the participant, if the video camera is on, that they can share their screen, or if you need to share your screen.

There are several things with remote moderated research you need to figure out. And so give yourself at least 10 or 15 minutes right before all the observers come in.

Another tip would be, if you have one hour with the participant, plan for research for just 45 minutes, because assume that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If you walk in with that assumption and leave 10-15 minutes just for a technology check, then you’re probably going to do much better.

How do you ensure you’re getting the right communication across to your users during the pandemic?

Paul: I think quite early on, we knew we needed to change tact in terms of what we were doing. We now have a very large call center. Obviously, with the pandemic, a lot of that capability we have in the call center was slowed down, so people started to work from home and we have to push people more online and doing digital things.

One of the ways we communicate that was through a bunch of FAQs that we really quickly threw together. We weren’t sure we were getting the right message across. You know, these are the things that we think people wanted to hear, in terms of our products and our services.

So, we put together a survey, and we said, “What concerns do you have about COVID-19 from an insurance point of view? This is what we wanna tell you, but what have we missed?” And we’re getting the feedback from our users really, really early in terms of ensuring that we’re hitting the mark, and making sure we’re getting the right information in an FAQ, so we can service their needs.

The feedback we got from that survey and from the studies we were running, is we did miss some pretty key points and stuff that we didn’t even think was coming up.

We managed to loop those into FAQs as well, so they’re now live on our site. I guess you could say that if we didn’t have those, the strain on the call-center potentially would have gone up.

So yeah, really, really important to get out there and ask the parties, ask customers, ask your end users, “Are we doing the right thing?”

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How do you handle participants who are not super adept with technology?

Rima: We have recruiters that work tirelessly to actually prepare them and make sure that their computer and all the softwares that they have on the computer, is compatible and up to date so that when they join a remote session, there are no problems or gaps.

And it’s interesting, you read tons of articles about how people who have never wanted to do a check deposit with their phone for years, now have to use online banking. It’s either trust or confidence in the fact that they can interact with technology, because they don’t believe they’re savvy. Nowadays, they’re doing it!

So, change in behavior is incredible. And honestly, when they have a good incentive and they believe that the feedback they’re gonna provide will really matter and have a big impact on the experience, they will actually do it. And they will be surprised and satisfied by the fact that they were able to do it remotely.

We’re doing research on products that are a year or more out. How do we ask test participants to think about typical behavior, not pandemic behavior?

Kuldeep: In general, UX research focuses on usage, or behavior of that usage, and what you’re clicking on the screen, and are you able to do the task? If that is the goal, and assuming you are running a moderated session, then after the first five to 10 minutes, the chances are the participant has forgotten the current situation, and have gotten deep into the software.

Then any feedback that you receive on the design or the usability of that design and behavioral things are probably valid.

Does remote research have an edge over in-field research in terms of the insights obtained?

Paul: I think both have pros and cons. If you’re infield or if you’re with somebody in front of you, the biggest pro for me is that if I’ve asked something and they responded with something really interesting, and I wanna follow them down that route, I can, on the spot, come up with some questions that will really dive into that insight.

If you’re doing an unmoderated study, for example, you can’t really follow up on that. But with remote moderated options, using a platform with video conferencing, you can follow up in the same way as in-field.

The cons to infield work is the setup takes a long time. It’s quite an in-depth setup, so you probably spend a week or so trying to get everything ready. When you go out into the field, you’ve got everything set up, you know what insight you’re trying to get, you know who you’re trying to target, you know who you’re trying to find.

Whereas if you’re doing it all remotely, hopefully, you’ve got a bit more time to sit back, and you can still bounce off people in the office if you’ve got ideas, or if you’ve got observers with you, they can be feeding in with what they’re seeing and the questions they want to pick up on.

So, from my perspective, I think there are pros and cons to both. I think if you’re mixing up in terms of doing some infield and some remote, you’re gonna get the best of both worlds.

Griffin: I think a mix is probably the best. If you can combine un-moderated/moderated, remote/in-person, this is gonna give you all the different lenses to look at.

For us, it depends on the question that we’re trying to answer, and how contextual that behavior is. For a lot of our user base, they are just so busy. But if we do a remote study with them, they know they’re gonna be an hour, so they’re focused on it. Whereas if we go in-person, we see how many interruptions they get. We see how messy their offices are, and all these different things around that we wouldn’t notice because we’re doing a remote study.

So, it really depends on how exploratory, how discovery-focused we are, versus the more usability validation stuff.

How does a UX team of one increase the number and types of research they do?

Griffin: It depends on what’s the most valuable thing to my organization right now, like on a strategic level. A lot of the time, there’s already product direction being set, that strategy is already being set, so you know what? I’m not gonna be involved in setting the vision side of the strategy work. I really do the most high-level, high-impact, high-visual work and get everyone involved in the usability testing.

I think that’s probably where I’d start. Because that’s a really easy thing for all of your stakeholders in the organization to see and get buy in for the value of user research, because they’re thinking, “Okay, this is what we need to make. We’ve made this thing, where’s the value gonna be where can people actually use this? Is this gonna meet their needs?”

So, if you get them in front of users actually using what they’ve made, that’s gonna start the conversation. Because that’s the highest visibility, quickest impact you can have, from my perspective, to start getting that buy in to then move on to some other things and build out the capacity of the team.

How do you analyze user research as a team when working remotely?

Paul: I’ve been trying to keep in touch with my designers using Zoom and things like that. I think the great thing with being able to take video through remote sessions is you can clip them. So, I’ve been taking clips of insight and sending them across, and saying, “Look, guys, I’m seeing this in one of the studies. Here’s three or four clips with three or four different participants who are doing the same thing, so I think we need to design it.”

And then you can all jump in and collaborate together in terms of designing something to try and fix that issue.

The ability to be able to clip and then send those clips over and have people talking constantly backwards and forwards about it, has been invaluable to us.

For more in-depth insight, you can watch the entire recorded conversation between our panellists right here:


Main image by Andrew Neel