Insights

5 remote research benefits in the time of COVID-19 (and beyond)

December 7, 2020

Written by Erica Frantz, PhD. Design by Isabella Chen

In the Before Times, clients perceived remote research as the “budget” option. While they often found it didn’t actually save much money, they still saw remote work as less stringent and impactful. Although our studio was well-versed in remote work, clients preferred in-person studies, not appreciating the value and benefits of remote research.

But then we experienced a worldwide pandemic.

With in-person testing no longer an option, clients now had a need for our remote skills. Idean’s teams were ready, adapting existing skills to face new challenges. From our perspective, we saw this as an opportunity to:

  • refine our remote process
  • determine the best tools for various types of projects
  • showcase to clients the value of what we could do

We developed a toolbox we can rely on for all kinds of successful remote projects—even interactive group approaches such as workshops.

Our teams have produced high-quality remote research that has delighted our clients, often exceeding expectations. Stakeholders have come to understand that this type of research isn’t the “budget” option they thought it was. Rather, it is an invaluable and steadfast method of conducting research—and not just in times of COVID-19, but beyond.

Client support

How did we convince clients that the research we are doing now is of the same quality as in-person research in the Before Times?

By sharing our successes.

The most seamless process I have experienced in 3 months.Sr. Mgr, User ExperienceAmerican software company

We have produced remote versions of all of our offerings. In addition, we have created a pair of research offerings specifically tailored to remote work, including Create From Home. Our teams have shown that we have the right experience and the right tools for the timely collection of quality remote data. And our clients are seeing it—–we have consistently managed to secure remote usability projects, even during this pandemic.

So, if clients are buying in and research is thriving now, the question then becomes:

Are there reasons to continue doing remote research post-COVID-19?

Short answer: Yes!

In the Before Times, we (and our clients) always preferred to do the research in-person when possible. However, this situation has revealed very clear benefits to remote research that critically should not be ignored once the world finds a level of normality. Rather, they should be taken into account when designing and scoping all future research.

5 benefits of remote user research

1. Easier to recruit users

In the Before Times, people had to put on real clothes, leave their house, travel to a facility… but with remote testing, they don’t have to do any of those things (real clothes included). They are therefore more likely to sign up, and much more likely to actually show up. In fact, the period it takes to recruit can be reduced from 1–2 weeks to 3–4 days.

2. Our users are working from their own comfortable environment

There is a smaller potential for discomfort, as they’re clicking through a website (quite possibly in sweatpants) just as they would in “real life,” as opposed to sitting in our mirrored lab.

3. Remote recruiting allows for a much more geographically diverse population

We see this one as a particularly big benefit. Some clients may want users from a specific area or region. But for the others, this method allows us to chat with users across the country (or even the world), without the extensive travel costs that would typically come with in-person research.

4. Context, context, context

We can see how users would interact with a product/platform in their own world and on their own device.

5. Accessibility

It is not always easy for users that have needs for assistive technologies to bring their tools to the lab. Nor are we always able to provide them. Now, they are now able to have whatever they would typically use at home and on-hand. Remote research allows them to use what they need when they need it—which enables us to learn even more about accessibility and user needs.


At the end of the day, this surreal situation has shown that remote research is not a “cheaper” or less stringent option. Nor is it just a “temporary fix” until we can get back to in-person research. Times are a-changin’ and research methods must evolve with them. What we have shown is that we can gather valid and reliable data remotely, with benefits that can outweigh those of in-person testing. It is essential that we continue to take advantage of these benefits, even when we (one day) return to offices and lab spaces.

Senior Researcher, UX Lab

Erica Frantz, PhD

Erica has over 10 years of experience in the research field- first as an experimental social psychologist, and now as a human-centered design researcher. She is passionate about using the best possible research methods to learn what users need and how clients can best meet those needs through improved design.

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