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Well then, let’s turn to remote research! Part 1: preparation

Qualitative research is all about having in-depth conversations with users and consumers.


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Nina Schacht

3 years ago | 5 min read

2021 — time to get digital!

Qualitative research is all about having in-depth conversations with users and consumers. It is about uncovering hidden wishes, needs and desires and about learning what people really want. I am a qualitative researcher with all my heart.

And not least due to my love of having conversations with humans, I turned to this profession. Having face-to-face conversations, visiting users at home or trying out new products are at the core of my profession. Well, we are now experiencing a period where keeping ‘social distance’ is a fact we have to face.

Let’s turn to remote research!

In the past, I was not a very big promoter of remote research. To me, it felt as if I was missing out on something when I interacted with a screen instead of a three-dimensional human being. However, remote research grew on me in the past years as it does have its undeniable advantages:

  • Less travelling time: you can dive into the homes of people without wasting too much time getting there.
  • More flexibility: Remote interviews give you a higher flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Dialing in at 8 a.m. is more convenient than ringing a doorbell at the other end of the town or entering a research facility.
  • Larger base of potential conversation partners: you are able to target a broader user base. More people are willing to chat with you for an hour online than having you visit their home or travelling to a research facility. And they do not need to live in the place you are conducting your research from.
  • Reduced health risks: and last but not least — you can talk to people in times where we are all asked to leave the house only if necessary. Corona-time is the golden time of remote research! Conducting good remote research is no rocket science. However, there are some best practises you should take care of when conducting remote research.

Conducting good remote research is no rocket science. However, there are some best practises you should take care of when conducting remote research.

The five golden rules on how to set up your remote research:

1.) Choose your weapons wisely

Needless to say, your most important work tool for remote interviews is your computer and the software you are using. Be wise & choose the software to work with carefully.

In my opinion, it should offer the following:

  • A very easy dial-in, even for newbies and non-techies, a sign-up should not be requested
  • Anonymity for the conversation partner
  • Possibility to choose between recording / not recording the interview
  • Saving the interview recording locally instead of a server (be extremely careful about data protection!)
  • Back-up option to dial in via phone in case there are issues with their internet or microphone
  • A ‘waiting room’ from which you let participants enter the call (find the reasons for this below)
  • An easy way to share a screen you and the interviewee

I myself am a big of Zoom (www.zoom.us). After having tried a lot of different services, Zoom worked out best for me (and no, this is not a sponsored post!). You have other recommendations? Reach out to me. I am always happy to learn.

2.) Don’t expect your counterpart to be a pro

You are a professional when it comes to using meeting software? Great! But don’t expect your interview partner to be one as well. I always have a little briefing document prepared to send out upfront. This document covers the following:

Required equipment:

  • PC or laptop computer (smartphone only if inevitable)
  • If possible, a headset / headphone with speakers to improve the quality of the sound

To-Do one day before the interview:

  • Make sure to have access to a strong internet connection during the interview
  • If needed: download the meeting software and test it
  • Have all software updates installed on the device
  • Shut down the computer once completely
  • Make sure you are in a calm room without distraction or background noise

3.) Prep yourself for the unforeseeable

You have skyped before with friends and family? Great! This will make your life easier when it comes to remote research. However, make sure before any remote interview, that all your hardware & software runs properly, too.

Have a dry run to ensure that the latest updates on your computer do not have an unforeseen impact on your hardware or software (e.g. source of sound input / output , new security settings hindering screen sharing). And of course, all the tasks from the briefing document for your participants are valid for you as well ;-)

Don’t make my mistakes. In one of my first remote interviews ever, I was asked by the client to use a meeting software I had not used before (and wasn’t given access to before the interviews). Well, embarrassingly enough, me and my interview partner needed quite a lot of time to find the hidden screen-sharing option. This hick-up did not shed the best light on me.

4.) Take your stakeholders by the hand

Remote interviews are great to involve your stakeholders. They can dial in and listen to the conversation. However, I strongly recommend to give everybody a ‘code of conduct’ upfront to avoid any disruptions during the interview which might distract your interview partner.

I use the following code of conduct for my stakeholders:

  • Your role: you are a listener & observer. The conversation will be between the participant and the interviewer, please do not interrupt.
  • Be on time: dial in 5 minutes before the interview starts [I do not want interruptions from people randomly dialing in late and disturbing those precious first minutes when I try to build rapport with my interview partner. That is what I use the ‘Waiting Room’ for. People can only join the call if I let them enter. If one of the stakeholders dials in late, they will not be admitted.]
  • Be professional: do not use your real name, but dial in as ‘Listener XY’ etc. . [Seeing that a Lucy, a Boogyboy or a DevChamp listen and watch is way more disturbing than seeing professional aliases]
  • Be silent & invisible: mute yourself & turn off the camera
  • Don’t interrupt: do not use the chat function in the meeting software but the parallel slack channel I opened. At the very end of the interview, I will unmute you in case you still have questions.

5.) Be visible

It seems like a no-brainer, though I have seen it happening too often: use the video function and ask your participant to use the video function as well.

You are not able to sit physically in the same room. Make sure to connect to the person by showing yourself and not only remaining a distant voice. And needless to say — do not wear pyjamas, at least for the top.

Follow these five golden rules and you are ready to rumble! I cross my fingers for your excursion into the online research world. And watch out for more tips to come.

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Nina Schacht

Nina is a qualitative researcher with over 15 yrs. of experience. She has a track record of working on the key accounts of some of the largest FMCG players worldwide. In recent years she stepped into UX research and built UXR departments for start-ups. Design Thinking is part of her toolbox as well


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