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3 April 2020 / Opinion

How to do remote user research

Emma Travis / Head of UX & CRO

In the face of a global pandemic, it’s easy to feel like all of your plans go out of the window (both in and out of the workplace). However, if the last week has taught me anything, it’s that we’re lucky to live in the age of technology where you can still see your Dad blow out his birthday candles despite him being miles away in self-isolation and where you can still attend your weekly yoga class despite the studio being closed. All this has got me thinking about what this means for UX, which so often relies on collaborative workshops and observation of physical behaviour.

So, why should you be taking UX more seriously than ever?

User behaviour is changing - lives have been changed across the world, arguably forever, in a few short weeks and the impact this will have both long and short term on user behaviour is potentially massive. We’ve seen that BT has reported a 20% increase in internet usage, highlighting a shift in people using the internet to help them fulfil tasks which they would ordinarily undertake offline, be that buying their groceries, attending meetings or seeking entertainment. More users mean more people to please and convert. It also means more potential for frustration and drop-offs, meaning having your site UX up to scratch is more important than ever.

We acknowledge that this is a really difficult time for some sectors such as travel, however, this time presents an opportunity to work on and develop an optimum user experience for when things inevitably pick up again (I know I’ll be booking a holiday as soon as it’s safe to do so). The Drum wrote about exactly this last week, explaining that not only will small, incremental changes help convert more users now but will also help you test, measure and learn, leading to longer-term performance improvements.

Along with a general shift to online across the world, we’re likely to see a shift in user demographics. I spent forty minutes on the phone to my father-in-law at the weekend trying to talk him through how to order a groceries shop online. This really highlighted the amount of users who may be trying to undertake tasks online that they may never have done before, meaning it needs to be as easy as possible for as many people as possible, showcasing the importance of website accessibility and conducting user research with demographics who may be less technically savvy.

Okay, where do I start?

Remote moderated user research is actually a ‘best of both’ solution as you are able to observe user behaviour in a more realistic setting, such as the participant being in their own home using their own technology, with remote research conducted via a tool such as Userlytics. You’re also able to moderate the session, ask more specific questions and adapt to the participant’s behaviour as with physical moderated research. Here are a few tips to help you start running remote moderated user research.


Roughly one-fifth of the world’s population is on some form of lockdown. This means people have time to kill and you can use this to your advantage from a research recruitment point of view. Often we have to be flexible around people’s busy schedules and commitments, which can be a real challenge especially for certain demographics, however, it’s safe to say that most people have been forced to slow down and have more spare time, especially on evenings and weekends.

We’d recommend using a tool such as Hotjar to set up a poll aimed at recruiting users for your research (more on how to do this here). This means you’re recruiting users who have genuinely made their way to your website and you can use this to gather demographic information too, to ensure you’re gathering feedback from a diverse range of people.


Next up, select a suitable tool. We’ve used Zoom and Join.me in the past which have both worked well, but ultimately any online conference call tools that allow screen share will do the job. We’d recommend a few trial runs with members of your team to ensure the tech works as expected, as well as to ensure the user experience on the participant’s end is as smooth as possible. Ideally, you’d also select a tool that allows you to record the session and personalise the output of the recording. This is a screenshot from some remote moderated research we ran for a client via Zoom just last week;


Now, write a script. Think about what your research objectives are; what are you hoping to achieve by running this research? Centre your tasks around these objectives, but ensure they’re not too leading or suggestive. Given that there will be more to consider from a logistical point of view, include prompts such as ‘ask the participant to share their screen’ to ensure the session runs smoothly. Finally, consider how you’ll incentivise participants. You’ll need to make arrangements to transfer incentives rather than using cash or physical vouchers.

Next steps

The only thing worse than not conducting research is not actioning the insights gathered via research. Now more than ever it’s important to make the most of the investment in time and budget by using the insights to inform on-site optimisation and ultimately positively impacting your business objectives. Whether the research highlights opportunities for ‘quick wins’, AB tests or larger, more strategic changes, ensure you collate your insights. We recommend using a Trello board when you’re working from home without a good space for post-it notes, then categorise and prioritise your insights to create a realistic, manageable plan of action.

Ultimately, you should not be stopping any user experience and website optimisation work because of lockdown, if anything now is the perfect time to ramp it up or get started. While we appreciate it’s a difficult time, it doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. Businesses who utilise this as an opportunity to optimise will be those that come out of the other side thriving.

Good luck and we’re here to help however we can. If you have any questions, please either send over an email to [email protected], or send us a tweet or LinkedIn message.