How to prepare participants for remote research

We love remote research. However, it has some pitfalls. For instance, something can easily go wrong with the technology and some participants tend to take a remote test less seriously – they don’t show up on time, didn’t do the necessary preparations, or don’t understand the tool. So, it goes without saying that you have to recruit and instruct participants carefully. How? We’ll guide you through 3 tips based on our own experience.

#1 Make sure to control whatever you can control

Remote research means less control: you can’t hand the right device, can’t create a stable environment, and can’t help when there is no connection. There are a lot of things you can’t do, so make sure you do the things you can do right: see to it that the participant has the necessary device, operating system, browser for the test material, and the research tool. Additionally, you should try to make sure that their internet speed is sufficient for doing remote tests. Another thing to consider is to try to determine if the participant is “tech-savvy” enough for doing remote tests as it can become difficult to download and use your chosen research tool. It comes as no surprise with testing remotely you exclude people who are a little less skillful with the technique. Unfortunately you can’t prevent this.

#2 Provide clear instructions to the participant

The biggest mistake you can make when doing remote research? That’s probably giving half-baked instructions. Participants don’t know what you know. Make sure they’re all set for the test by giving clear instructions on the tool and set up. Consider the following things:

  • Give instructions on how to download the tool. Ask the participant to install the necessary programs on the device used during the test. Give detailed step-by-step instructions on how to do this. These instructions need to be adjusted for the used tool and the used test device and operating system.
  • Give clear audio and camera instructions. Not being able to hear the participant properly might ruin your interview. Ask them to make sure that there is a working microphone and camera for the test. Preferably, a separate headphone and microphone, which prevents you from hearing yourself twice. Also ask them to make sure that they are in a quiet room during the test session. By now, we all know that nothing is more annoying than yelling kids in the background :).
    • Explain how to start the session. Participants often expect to be called or get a notification the moment the test session is about to start. They’re not used to initiating the session themselves. Additionally, people might not recognize that there is a tight schedule and thus start too late.
    • Explain what information they will share. Just like you do in the lab, you record the participant’s face, voice, and screen while doing remote interviews. However, when testing remote, you will often also be able to see their home situation. This extra context is a huge advantage from a research perspective, but it also means it becomes more important than ever to stress you’ll treat the footage confidentially.


    #3 Adjust your test day schedule

    If you are used to face-to-face usability research, you might find that a remote testing day takes more time. These are some things you need to take into consideration when planning your test day:

    • Recruit additional participants. Chances are that – due to technological issues on the user’s end – some sessions will be rendered useless (especially with remote unmoderated research). Create a safety net by recruiting more participants than you actually need. The fallback can be a spare participant, planned at the end of the day, or a floater, who is standby the whole day. Rather safe than sorry!
    • Send instructions in time. Send all the necessary instructions a few days in advance. Make sure that there is enough time for the participant to read it and prepare accordingly. Also, make sure that the right link for accessing the test session is included and not changed in the time between sending and testing-day. 
    • Call for a technical check. No matter how clear your instructions are, you’ll learn that technology remains difficult. To be safe, call the participants a day before the test for a technology check. By explaining and checking their setup, you avoid surprises. And if a participant can’t comply with the technological demands, you can still find a replacement.
    • Plan extra time for the set up on the test day. Before the first test session starts, you need to open all the necessary tools, login, connect your headphone and microphone, and test if the whole setup works. A small problem can take a lot of time to find, so make sure you build in time for troubleshooting.

    Just let us know if you need some help finding the right participants and instructing them properly. We’d love to help set up your research.