During the past year, a lot of people have discovered they actually like working remotely. (Parents with three kids and two jobs in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan: We’re not looking at you.) And they’re finding they like doing other stuff remotely, too. There’s no need to take public transportation, drive, wear pants — the benefits go on and on.
While this has been a new development for many, it’s not so novel for in-the-know researchers. Most solid research programs should include a remote component. With the possible exception of super-deep, contextual, ethnographic studies, we’d be hard-pressed to think of any other type of research that can’t be conducted well remotely. Focus groups? Check. Diary studies? Check. Surveys? Check. “Mixed” methods to ensure you’re learning things from every angle? Check, check, check.
“In-person research, at least for the foreseeable future, is not going to be possible, so it’s got to move as much to online as it can,” Feedback Loop Co-Founder and Vice President of Product Nis Frome predicted in January. “There is a lot of really deep ethnographic research you would typically do in person — simply something such as observing people in a natural environment, where if you want to see how people get into a car and drive a car and do anything of that nature, you can’t really do that right now. So you’re either going to find a virtual replacement or some other sort of proxy for it. I think there’s a whole spectrum of research that just needs to be invented online or conducted remotely.”
The benefits of remote research are numerous. They include:
- Environment/context: Participants are in their own environment and are not being influenced by unfamiliar external influences, such as being in a lab or being directly watched by observers.
- Time/flexibility: Virtual research lets participants answer questions from wherever they want to be, at whatever time works for them — in any time zone.
- Recruitment/inclusiveness: Speaking of time zones, remote participants are not geographically limited, nor are they limited by mobility. It gives you access to a much wider pool from which to find audience members with the exact characteristics you need.
- Speed: We love this one, as it’s a hallmark of agile research. Ask a question, get an answer, make a decision. No need to wait for people to come to you — or wait for anything, really. When you’re doing research remotely, you can assemble your participants quickly, and they can complete your study quickly, allowing for fast, iterative de-risking of decisions as often as you need to make them.
- Cost: The costs of recruitment, incentives, setup and space are all lower with remote research than with in-person research.
Feedback Loop’s 2021 Product Management Insights Report found that the number of product managers spending more time every day on user/consumer research increased by 17% year over year. Every. Day. That just screams for remote research methods that bring complete control to researchers’ fingertips.
One thing to remember, always: No matter what type of research you’re conducting, and whether it’s in person, remote or on the moon, asking the right questions in the right way is at the heart of being able to reliably de-risk the decision you need to make. There’s an art and a science to this, so don’t go it alone. This is where your research team or outsourced tools that employ proper techniques and rigor, such as Feedback Loop, are your best friends. Further, automated research tools let you make those quick, remote decisions even more quickly and give you peace of mind knowing you can trust the quality of the data you’re generating. Check out my cheat sheet on how to structure great questionnaires.
As long as it’s done well, the benefits of remote research are pretty undeniable. It will only grow in popularity, regardless of where you’re working or if you’re wearing pants.