Before the pandemic, you would see me out in the world, facilitating conversations inside people’s homes, cars, offices, store backrooms (the first time was to protect ourselves during a tornado), taking people out to dinner, and sitting around a conference or kitchen table talking. All of that in-person research was postponed since the pandemic began, and online research growth accelerated, as did every other good online solution. Pivoting to online was easy. As an industry we know how to do virtually (pun intended) every kind of research. Thank goodness for remote research and video chats.
As the world continues to open up, in-person research is starting to resume. Last week, for the first time in six months, I was out in the world doing in-person research. Here’s what you need to know about in-person research during a pandemic:
Client Collaboration Is Key
Research is a collaborative art, and now more than ever everyone on the team needs to be focused on objectives and essentials. Everyone who is present at the research needs to have clear roles and responsibilities. Like shopping in-store during a pandemic, only essential people are present. Everyone else should participate remotely. These are different times but working with great clients hasn’t changed. Where would we and the world be without great clients? We do great work together, bring out the best in each other, we learn and experience new things together, and we energize each other with compassion and resilience. It is a gift to be out in the world with clients again.
When my state and region of the country reopened, I was out and about practicing being in conversation with people at a distance with a mask on. Mask wearing takes practice. I spoke and listened to all kinds of people from all kinds of distances and asking people about their mask wearing experience. I discovered where and when people feel comfortable, and for how long. Keep in-person interviews while wearing masks to 30 minutes.
Communicate openly with everyone – participants, hosts, and clients. Ask and know ahead of time what people are comfortable with and set up for. It is more essential now than ever that we ask, listen, and communicate clearly so everyone knows what is being requested and expected. If everyone needs to wear a mask and stand at least 6 feet apart, say so and get everyone’s agreement. Ask if people are comfortable with that or prefer a greater distance. Choose a venue or location that can accommodate your social distancing requirements at all touch points. We were at a restaurant that has really excelled at procedures and social distancing, but there was a bottleneck at the restrooms. Meeting expectations sets everyone up for success and optimizes the time we have together.
Trust Is Essential
Now more than ever, trust is essential. It’s the foundation of safety and integrity. Without it we can’t get to yes. We need to trust each other. And we need to trust that everyone involved is safe and healthy and respectful of each other at every step in the experience. We also need to trust our instincts – our own and the instincts of everyone involved. If someone is uncomfortable with something, recognize and acknowledge that discomfort. It doesn’t matter if they can’t articulate or explain it to our satisfaction. Instincts always serve us well, and we’re usually sorry when we ignore them.
Space Is a Gift
Six feet for personal space is not unusual. What’s different now is that we get it. It is lovely to stand back and give each other space. To stand back and observe, be able to take in the whole person and their surroundings.We can be at least 6 feet apart and have an engaging conversation. Knowing that we aren’t going to get too close or shake hands, welcoming each other and starting to feel connected now needs to start from a greater distance.
Something Will Go Wrong
It’s a given. Something will go wrong – we just don’t know what it is yet. When it happens, we simply need to pivot without missing a beat. Several things didn’t go as planned during the research – last minute cancellations and rescheduling, three customers showing up instead of one, the product being tested malfunctioned at a critical moment. Knowing these things happen, we rearranged our second day of research, welcomed everyone who showed up, and included them in the conversation – and of course, had back up product in the car.
So Many Things Go Right
So many things go right – and go better than expected. The location was more convenient than we knew. The respondents were more open, forthcoming, and generous than we expected. There were more opportunities than we thought possible
I’m looking forward to more in-person research – and look forward to seeing you there.
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