It’s now been over a year since the pandemic lockdowns forced most office workers to adapt to remote work. While there have been many silver linings (for some) working from home, such as more family time and no commute, Zoom-fatigue is definitely settling in for many.
At InterQ, we’re feeling this, acutely.
As qualitative researchers, our job consists of observing and interviewing people. We are people-researchers. We study and learn, using principles rooted in psychology, and we translate our findings into actionable insights that can be used in marketing, sales, and product design.
We’ve been able to move our in-person focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnographies to online and mobile formats during the pandemic, but it’s definitely not as effective (nor rewarding) as having conversations with people, in-person. You simply can’t replicate the energy that you get from meeting with people live and translate that to a digital format, nor can a moderator pick up on subtle body cues that would be visible when together physically. It’s a watered-down version of research. Yes, it’s still allows us to learn insights, and for UX-types of projects, it actually works great, but there simply is no substitute for in-person research.
But spring is here, and the pandemic climate is finally starting to change in the U.S. as the vaccine rollout continues.
In fact, in California, where we’re based, all adults will be eligible for the vaccine in mid-April, which is just a few weeks away.
Are in-person focus groups around the corner?
In-person focus groups are actually possible now, and the focus group facilities have really stepped up with advanced protocols for safety. But now, with more and more people being vaccinated, a whole new possibility is opening up: In-person focus groups could become the norm again, and not just the exception.
But what does that look like?
There are a few possibilities. One is that research companies can require vaccination proof from all participants. This would allow people to feel more comfortable sharing inside space, and, it could even mean people could remove their masks. This is significant, because it’s difficult to read people’s expressions when they’re masked-up. However, this could get dicey with screening and ensuring people present proof of vaccination. Moreover, it would require the employees at the facilities to also be vaccinated.
How should research companies plan?
At InterQ, we’re anticipating that it will be safe to resume in-person research by the summer, assuming participants and staff members are fully vaccinated, meaning that at least 2 weeks have elapsed since the second shot (or the J&J single shot dose). We’re planning to return to the field, and though we’ll have to have more restrictions, we’re really excited to meet with participants again and uncover how the pandemic has changed people’s mindsets, behaviors, and attitudes. There will be a lot to unpack, and smart companies will need to invest in research as they help us all adapt to a world that has been indelibly altered by COVID-19.