‘Virtual back room’ – Getting the most out of remote observation

Posted by Ken Groom on Sep 28, 2022 3:55:07 PM
Ken Groom

Given the changes to working practices and the focus on remote working since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was important for us to adapt our ‘action-oriented approach’ to these new conditions as well.

What is our ‘action-oriented approach’?

Observation of real time research enables greater insight into the user issues as it allows staff to gain experiential knowledge of behaviours as well as hearing attitudes. However, observation of the research on its own is not enough: everyone develops their own interpretation of why a user behaved in a particular way based on their own experiences, values and prejudices. Only by getting the client to discuss what they have observed is it possible to challenge these mental models to gain agreement about the issues with the site.

We, therefore, always recommend that at least some of the testing sessions be observed by members of the client team. Following each testing session, we include a 15-minute debrief session to agree issues and actions and make any changes to the testing sessions as required.

This agile, inclusive approach is key for getting the most value out of the research sessions, and for ensuring stakeholder buy-in and full comprehension of the research outcomes.

Limitations of this approach

Obviously, this process is easier to achieve when all the observers are in a room together – which was not possible during Covid-19! Subsequently, in-person observation has become the exception, rather than the norm as well.

Also, observers/back-room staff can only pass a limited amount of information to the facilitator during the sessions – most comes between sessions. While this does ensure that the facilitation approach is flexible and focuses on the key areas, sometimes specific, contextual probes or explanations from the observers at key times can be very useful.

How can we do it remotely?

We found that WhatsApp made an effective alternative!

Key observers join a WhatsApp group with the facilitator and Web Usability back-room staff. This allows the observers to discuss points as they arise and feed comments, explanations, additional probes etc. to the facilitator ‘live’, during the research sessions.

It also provides a way of tracking discussion points for further exploration between sessions or at the end of the day, much like you would use post-it mapping in in-person observation.

There are obviously other, more complicated tools available for remote collaborative working (e.g. Miro, Mural etc.), but we have found that WhatsApp has a number of advantages:

  • Almost everyone already has it
  • Everyone knows how to use it, so it is easy for client teams to engage (no training required)
  • It allows for immediate communication and notifications for the facilitator
  • It is very easy for an experienced facilitator to keep an eye on their phone, and even respond to messages, without requiring use of the mouse or keyboard and disrupting the screen sharing in the test session

Read more blog articles

Topics: Usability Testing

Want to know more?

If you’d like to talk to someone about how you can optimise your digital media with user research and advice, please get in touch!

We would love to hear from you.

Contact us

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts