Tools to continue UX Research remotely with Shreya Venkatesan

The COVID-19 pandemic paused most of our “normal” lives — almost every field had to figure out how to continue to succeed with all of their employees working remotely. Some companies have plans to return to their office spaces as soons as is safe, while others will continue with this new way of working. To learn more about how UX roles have changed with the onset of remote working, we spoke to Shreya Venkatesan about her experience.

Shreya Venkatesan is a UX Researcher at auto repair marketplace platform, RepairPal. It’s her job to understand what users’ needs are and to fill in any missing gaps in projects. 

RepairPal decided during the pandemic that they would remain completely remote even after the threat of COVID-19 is over. Venkatesan said she knows of other companies that have been operating remotely even before the pandemic. 

Whether your company is permanently remote or only working this way because of COVID-19, a UX researcher’s job can be made significantly easier with the correct tools. Venkatesan shares her favorite tools for doing this job out of her own home.

“I’m not too limited. While there are things that I would like to do in-person, there are things that I can do, you know, from home,” Venkatesan said.

For her role, Venkatesan works closely with a designer so they can create the best product based on what their users need. However, when working remotely, they are unable to visit each others’ desks, so to solve that problem they have a Google Meet open to communicate. They also use the design software, Figma, which allows teams to work on a project simultaneously.

This system has allowed them to recreate an environment where Venkatesan tells the designer what she needs and the designer walks her through what has been created.

Another difficulty that had to be solved was figuring out how to complete the research that was vital for these designs. With COVID-19 precautions, Venkatesan has not been able to research through in-person observations and testing or ethnographic studies that would involve her going into the field to observe people’s behavior. However, there are a lot of tools that help her continue to learn from users while staying remote. 

For starters, she is still able to complete research interviews using tools such as Zoom or Google Meet. The screen sharing feature on Zoom allows Venkatesan to watch how the study participants interact with the sites. 

For quick testing, Venkatesan said she likes to use UsabilityHub, which allows you to generate heat maps based on the most commonly clicked places on your site. 

Another one of her favorite tools is hotjar.  This service gives you a code that can be embedded into your site, and it will track what users do when they’re visiting your site. This also allows you to generate heat maps and helps you accumulate a lot of quantitative and qualitative data. Venkatesan said you get results from everyone who visits your site instead of just the number of people you ask on the street to look at your website.

Adopting these tools has not been the only change Venkatesan has made. She has also changed how she runs interview sessions because of the Zoom fatigue people have been experiencing. 

“Zoom fatigue is real,”  Venkatesan said. “It’s really hard to be 100% when you’re doing a video meeting with anybody.”

In person, her sessions would be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. With it being virtual she tries to keep the sessions shorter than 30 minutes, even if that means holding a second follow-up session. She said she has noticed that if she doesn’t shorten the virtual sessions, people tend to become disengaged and less responsive, meaning she gets less helpful results. 

Although many of us miss going into the office and want to have a sense of constant communication and collaboration, many of these tools can help us feel connected and equipped enough to continue working in our ever-changing reality.