When and How to Resume Face-to-Face Research After COVID-19

July 20, 2020

No one in user research or the UX industry expects the government to declare that user-research facilities are now open—in the same way the hospitality sector received such a notification. So we decided to conduct a study to get insights from UK research participants on when going back to face-to-face user-research sessions would be acceptable to them and whether they think face-to-face research would be safe—or whether trying to go back to normality would even be the right thing to do right away.

Therefore, our research focused on three core areas:

  1. How to make UX research facilities safe
  2. Whether inviting participants to take part in face-to-face research would change their opinion of our clients’ organization and brand
  3. How comfortable British people would feel about returning to in-person research 
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If you want to read the full report, “Going Back to Face-to-Face Research After COVID-19,” you can request it here.

Highlights from the Report

Before diving into our detailed findings, I want to highlight some demographics and insights from the research and explore some of the high-level statistics from the report.

  • As of June 2020, 71.8% of UK participants would be comfortable doing in-person research. The majority of our sample said they would be willing to participate in face-to-face research sessions and would feel comfortable doing so. There are many factors that affect their willingness, which I’ll touch on later in this article.
  • Men are more willing to attend in-person sessions (81.4%) than women (68.7%), who are less likely to participate. If your research targets males or females, this could be an important factor in satisfying your demographic requirements. People who were unwilling to identify as male or female are even less likely to want to participate in research right now.
  • Older people are less willing to participate in face-to-face research sessions. Again, depending on your target demographics, this might limit your ability to recruit the participants you need to find, could contribute to there being more no-shows for in-person sessions, or skew your data.
  • Key workers are the most likely group to want to participate in face-to-face research. Our report also highlights the feelings of other professional groups toward in-person sessions—such as students, people on furlough, business owners, and full-time caregivers.

Making Face-to-Face Sessions Safe

People who are willing to participate in face-to-face research assume that you’ll provide a safe environment, but what would actually be safe is open to their interpretation. Participants highlighted their top three safety requirements, as follows:

  1. A detailed hygiene protocol—A documented process regarding specific situations in which individuals need to wash their hands and how they should interact with others.
  2. Available PPE—Before participants come to their session, they want to know whether you’ll provide personal protective equipment (PPE)—for both the researchers and the participants.
  3. Screening process—Participants want to know that you’re screening and testing any other people who might be present in the research facility and that they’re uninfected.

According to our research findings, participants’ safety priorities differ depending on their age group and the region of the UK in which they’re based. Therefore, planning face-to-face sessions with young adults in London versus people over 55 years of age in Yorkshire would be two completely different situations. The same is true for the type of research. Participants shared their thoughts on their willingness to take part in one-on-one sessions, focus groups, or in-home interviews.

Handling Participants Who Don’t Want to Do In-person Research

Of course, not everyone would be ready to take part in face-to-face research right away—28.2% of our sample share this hesitance. Regarding this group, we were interested in finding out whether our inviting them to take part in face-to-face research sessions would change their perceptions of our clients’ companies and brands. We also wanted to know at what point they would be prepared to do in-person research.

One interesting detail about this group is that, in comparison to the group of participants who are ready for in-person research, more people (61.6%) in the group that declined to participate have taken part in face-to-face research before, so are more aware of what to expect.

Maybe because of the higher proportion of people in this group who are more familiar with face-to-face sessions, 28.2% raised further safety considerations. Among other concerns, the group highlighted concerns about transportation to and from the research venue—mainly their having to use public transport and the safety of parking facilities near the venue.

Even though these people are not comfortable with the idea of taking part in face-to-face research right now, 77.7% said that your inviting them to participate would not be likely to change their opinion of the company running the research. So, even if you don’t reach out only to people who would be willing to attend your sessions, this is unlikely to cause customers to think negatively about your brand or your client’s brand.

If Not Now, When?

Returning to conducting face-to-face research right now might be too soon for some people, but the research industry is starting to ask questions about this. The most important question is: when can we get back to normal? Our study also shows, even if people are currently uncomfortable with in-person research, they’re likely to be ready to participate soon.

In addition to asking participants what they think about face-to-face research, we are currently collecting UX professionals’ opinions about the same issue. We want UX researchers and other UX professionals to tell us whether they feel ready to run in-person sessions and what kinds of safety measures they want to see in place or are planning to implement.

The Stages of Our Research

This study was the fourth stage of a large research project we’ve been conducting since the pandemic hit the UK. The first three rounds of research that we conducted during the lockdown focused on the following issues:

  1. How COVID-19 impacted the population’s life—We wanted to understand how people adjusted to changes in their work routines, what concerns they had about employment, and the pandemic’s broader impact on their mental health.
  2. How COVID-19 changed their behavior—We also studied changes to peoples’ lives—including their visiting public places during lockdown—and how their habits around exercising, eating, and drinking evolved during the pandemic.
  3. The population’s opinion on easing the lockdown—We asked how people felt about returning to work after the lockdown and how their employer has approached government guidelines and communications. 

All of this data is freely available for you to access and use on your upcoming projects.

Insights Marketing Manager at People for Research

Bristol, UK

Jason StockwellAt PFR, Jason helps clients get the most relevant participants for their surveys, card sorts, and tree tests and assists them in understanding the outcomes of their unmoderated research studies. Jason is also responsible for data analytics, optimizing quantitative research campaigns, and maintaining a data repository.  Read More

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