Ux Research Case Study #1: Food and Remote Work

During my UX Research course at the British School for the Creative Arts (EBAC), I had the opportunity to work on a research problem proposed by the school itself. Recently, I have taken up the problem and dedicated myself to exploring it a bit more. Therefore, I ended up taking over all the tasks and steps of the research. Below I present the case study and the paths I took in its development.

The context of the problem

Throughout the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we watched all over the world and especially in Brazil — the focus of this research — a significant increase of people in remote work. We know that the transition from face-to-face work to remote work was hurriedly made during the pandemic as a matter of public health. In this sense, there was no prior preparation of the work-home environment for remote work to take effect.

In this context, a company that owns a food delivery app saw the number of their orders increase and, concerned about the quality of their delivery, they decided to conduct research with users of delivery apps in general to locate possible problems and opportunities for the company.

The problem:

We start from a base problem:

what are the main difficulties related to food for remote workers?

The objective of the research is to map what are the main problems and opportunities for market expansion. In this sense, I consider that the research should work with more general aspects and more specific aspects.

Thus, I proposed that the problem should be thought of based on three points so that we could adequately address it. These are the points:

1) Locate the main problems in workers’ food delivery;

2) Identify the main problems in remote workers’ relationship with food delivery apps;

3) Point out the main problems in home-office feeding;

I have made this division to cover the main parts of the basic problem:

i) The first point concerns the first part of the problem: food.

ii) The second point concerns the second part of the problem: the consumer’s relationship with delivery apps.

iii) The third point concerns the third part of the problem: food within the home-work relationship.

What do we expect with this division?

a) demonstrate that a problem can be approached from different perspectives;

b) include a given problem in a broader context (social, economic, cultural, etc.);

c) realize that a given problem has characters and objects that interact with each other: workers, food, application.

From my perspective, understanding each point of the problem and the relationship between them in a given context is what will allow an appropriate resolution to the problem.

Thus, we arrive at three simultaneous research paths:

1) structural issues: understanding how the pandemic and the changes in work relationships, salary, schedules, roles influenced workers’ food;

2) technological issues: to understand how the user experience with food delivery applications in their remote work routine takes place;

3) cultural issues: investigate how workers organize themselves in their daily lives, their family structure, and how they relate to food and its preparation in the context of home office.

Approaching the problem: desk research

Before defining my main methodologies, I always prioritize starting the research with solid desk research, because I understand that a specific problem can and should be thought about in the broader contexts to which it links.

For me, this is a fundamental step for at least three reasons:

1) it allows the specific problem to be placed in a broader context;

2) it links particular issues to a structured network of situations, repositioning the local issues of a company/business in a given historical situation;

3) it allows us to better ground the problem and gives more input and engagement to the research;

What did I discover in the secondary research?

Starting from the Brazilian context between 2020 and 2021 — the most intense years of the pandemic — we were able to verify from news from the main Brazilian newspapers, economic institutes, research institutes, and official Brazilian government agencies central elements of the resolution of our problem. What did we find of relevance?

A first element to be observed is that until the year 2022 there was no specific legislation to regulate the remote work, leaving it up to the companies, unions, and employees to negotiate specific elements, such as working hours, benefits (food vouchers, transportation assistance, etc.), equipment, etc.

Why do we interest ourselves in knowing that?

Fundamentally, to understand how remote work has affected the worker’s economy. During the pandemic and during the remote work, companies were exempted from paying transportation assistance, understanding that there was no displacement of the worker to the company. But there is an open discussion about the payment of food vouchers — used to buy foodstuffs in supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries, etc — and meal vouchers — used for the consumption of food and ready meals in restaurants, bistros, etc. There is no consensus on the maintenance of meal vouchers, leaving it up to the companies to decide on the benefit. Having this information before starting the research is fundamental because some food delivery apps have started to admit the use of these benefit cards.

The first important point in our research was the analysis of the number of active workers who did remote work during the pandemic. According to data from IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) and IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research) published in the year 2021, the total number of home office workers reached 11% (approximately 8.2 million people) in Brazil, with: 56.1% women, 65.6% white, 74.6% with complete higher education, 31.8% between 30 and 39 years old, and 63.9% employees of private companies.

A second element was the increase in food consumption during the pandemic (and, consequently, in remote work) at the same time as a reduction in the purchasing power of the population. According to a research by the Locomotiva Institute about the economy and consumption in the pandemic era, published on June 22, 2022, some data interests us: 1) 62% of the Brazilian population had their income decreased while 25% maintained their income, and only 2% had an increase in income. On the other hand, according to the survey, 39% of Brazilians are buying more food to prepare at home.

Another highlight is the increased use of food delivery apps. A survey ordered by the online payment giant PayPal and conducted by the communications agency Edelman was published in November 2021. In this survey a significant increase in online shopping was found: before the pandemic, about 35% of Brazilians used digital ways to make their purchases. During the pandemic, this rate rose to 57% and shows a tendency to remain even after this period. Within this scenario, what interests us is, of the total respondents (a thousand people between 18 and 55 years old, all online shoppers), 87.9% said they shop for food and dishes in restaurants, and 93.7% use delivery applications.

Throughout the research, we found that a portion of the participants reported some type of food restriction or intolerance, which led us to seek statistical data on this topic. Unfortunately, the data is not condensed into a single survey and was often conducted between 2010–2019. Some data caught our attention: approximately 70% of the world population has lactose restriction, and in Brazil, this rate is approximately 40% of the population. According to a TV Brasil report, it is estimated that 1% of the world population has celiac disease, i.e. intolerance to gluten. Moreover, according to the Brazilian Vegetarian Society, 14% of Brazilians declare themselves vegetarian.

Finally, a fact that goes along with all this information. According to the Brazilian Institute for Data Analysis Research (IBPAD), in a research conducted with 2,004 people in the period November-December 2020, there was a reduction in the consumption of healthy foods in Brazil. Here are some indices from the survey: 44% of Brazilian households reduced their meat consumption, 40.8% reduced their fruit consumption, and 40.4% reduced their cheese consumption. In addition, 36.8% reduced their consumption of vegetables. All these data corroborate some complaints from the interviewers: most of them want to improve their diet and avoid junk food.

On the other hand, in an extensive article about the healthy food market, the website Sucão did a review of the indices in Brazil and revealed interesting numbers. Every day the concept of fast healthy food is expanding more, an alignment between food delivery apps and stores and restaurants that are dedicated to healthy food. Within the food market — which is one of the fastest-growing in Brazil since 2019 — the healthy food niche has stood out. According to the report, Brazil is in 4th place in the consumption of healthy food, and market trends point out that out of every 10 trends in the food segment in Brazil, 4 are related to healthy food. In addition, in a universe of 3,000 people interviewed by FIESP (Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo) in 2018, 80% of Brazilians are dedicated to healthy eating. In other words, there is a reduction in consumption of healthy food — probably linked to a salary loss in the Brazilian population, but on the other hand, there is an intention to create healthy eating habits.

First data approach: CSD matrix

From our research problem and the above collection of data and information, what can we conclude? To do this research, we suggest the creation of a CSD matrix so that we can put the information side by side and proceed with the research with greater certainty.

The choice of methods

From the set of information collected in the secondary research and the construction of the CSD Matrix, it is necessary to define the best method to approach our problem. Among the available methods, I believe we can work with three of them.

As this is a research that seeks to identify difficulties, we have chosen to follow predominantly qualitative methods, as they allow us to better identify the specific points of difficulties and the reasons that make them possible, as well as to analyze the context and the specific actions of our users. But, of course, some quantitative data will be collected to strengthen our analysis.

1) The in-depth interview: this method is fundamental for us to get to know our users better using a semi-structured questionnaire (which gives us certain freedom in conducting the interview while orienting us to questions that we need to know the answer to).

Duration: About 1 week for defining the audience, recruitment, and production of the questionnaire; 1 or 2 days of interviewing users, each interview lasting about 30 minutes; 3 or 4 days for data analysis and synthesis;

Interviewers: 10 people.

2) Diary Studies: To understand how our users’ remote work routine is, how they organize their time, their task separation, and, mainly, how they organize themselves during their main meals.

Duration: 1 week;

Participants: 4.

3) Persona: creating a Persona will help us to better understand who the remote worker using our app is and what their difficulties are regarding food.

These methods will help us understand and map the main difficulties regarding food for remote workers. Once we have mapped the most sensitive points, we can assess the need to use other methods.

Other methods considered but discarded due to pandemic restrictions:
— Focus group;
— Research in context;

Recruitment criteria and process

Defining the interviewee profile: screener

To better define who we are going to interview, the next step is to create a screener. This is a series of questions that guide us in choosing and delimiting the participants. The focus of our problem is mapping what are the main food-related difficulties for remote workers, so we should choose participants who are:

1) remote workers;

2) who eat at home;

3) frequent users of delivery applications or not;

The users’ profiles would therefore be linked to:

a) People in remote work who do not use delivery applications;

b) People in remote work who use delivery applications;

c) People in remote work who eat at home and make their own food;

In this sense, the main questions developed were:

i) Do you work remotely?

ii) Do you use food delivery applications?

iii) How often do you cook at home while working remotely?

Application of the methods

In-Depth Interview

The in-depth research was carried out using a semi-structured set of questions, as it allows us to delimit a number of key issues for the research while at the same time opening the possibility of listening and understanding the sensitive points regarding the users’ difficulties. Twelve questions were prepared covering areas of interest to the research, such as:

1) Socio-cultural aspects;

2) Family structure;

3) Type of work and organization of schedules;

4) Remote work;

5) Food;

6) Food preferences and restrictions;

7) Culinary skills;

8) Types of food most consumed;

9) Use of delivery applications;

Interviewers profile: examples

a) Woman, 27 years old, engineer, single, no children. Moderate consumption of food delivery apps. She is concerned about her health, but not excessively so. She does not have any dietary restrictions. She likes to cook, but prefers practicality. As she travels a lot, she usually eats in irregular places.

b) Woman, 37 years old, civil service employee, married with no children. Low consumption of food apps. Healthy eating and concern for health. She is lactose intolerant. Values time at home and enjoys cooking.

c) Man, 39 years old, university professor, married with children. High consumption of food apps. During the pandemic, he got fat and decided to reduce his junk food consumption. He is a vegetarian. Likes to cook, but spends too much time as he must make more than one dish (son and wife)

Statistical data from the in-depth survey

Universe: 10 respondents

Statistical Data

Diary Studies

We applied the continuous use diary with 4 participants over a period of 1 week. We handed each respondent a form with the guide questions to be answered throughout the research period. The script for the diary was:

1) What time did you start your work?

2) How was your first meal of the day?

3) Were there any difficulties in this process?

4) Did you take a lunch break? If yes, how long?

5) How much time did you spend in preparing your food?

6) Did you order food by app? How often?

7) How much time did you spend eating (both for the food you prepared yourself and the food ordered by the app)?

8) What difficulties did you have in making your meals?

Key findings from Diary Studies:

Routine of participant 1: Catherine starts her remote work journey from 8:30 in the morning. She prepares a black coffee and eats some toast before starting her work day. In a typical remote work week, she is able to take lunch breaks and spends approximately 40 minutes preparing her food. However, when the workload increased, she preferred to order food by app. Even if she cooks or orders food by app, her lunch time is about 20 minutes before she starts her second workday. This is the biggest difficulty Catherine encounters with food in remote work: having to eat and get back to work immediately.

Routine of participant 2: John starts his remote work day at 7 a.m. Throughout the day, he is able to take a lunch break. He likes to cook and spends about 1 hour preparing his meal. He rarely orders food by app. Even when he cooks or orders food via app, John manages to take 2 hours for lunch a day. He does not see any difficulties in his routine and seems to balance remote work and eating well.

Routine of participant 3: Teresa starts her workday at 9 a.m. Throughout her day, she manages to take time out for her main meals. In a normal work week, she stated that she is dedicated to preparing her food and spends approximately 3 hours preparing her lunch. Teresa stated that in a normal work week she doesn’t order food by app. She devotes approximately 1 hour to making lunch and notes that the biggest difficulty in making her meals during remote work was the lack of a fixed schedule.

Routine of participant 4: Gustavo starts his workday at 11 am. Throughout an average remote work week, he manages to take lunch breaks. He usually spends 30 minutes cooking and when time is short he usually orders food via na app, which happens quite often (two to three times a week). Gustavo stated that there is no specific time to eat lunch because it depends on work demands. One of his main complaints was not being able to stop completely for lunch, reporting that many times he interrupted a meal to solve work-related issues and then went back to eat.

Personas

The creation of the personas was guided by the results compiled from all the surveys conducted so far. Following the predominance of the data, we have:

1) Most of our audience is female, between 31 and 40 years old, with an average workload of 36h per week;
2) They are divided between married and single, predominantly without children; they like to cook, but face time is the most impacting factor in their daily routine;
3) They consume delivery apps, but are conditioned to time constraints and work demands; The vast majority of people are putting health first.
4) Half of our consumers have some kind of dietary restriction: lactose and gluten are at the top of the list.

From this information and its variations, we can arrive at three possibilities of buyer personas that we describe as follows:

Affinity mapping

From the data obtained in the in-depth interview and the Diary studies, I chose to assemble an affinity map to better locate the central points that interest us and to visualize the opening points for the insertion of new company actions. From the analysis of the interviewed answers, we arrived at the following main themes during the interview:

1) No time: most of the participants reported problems in organizing time during remote work;

2) Dietary restrictions: a good portion of the participants revealed that dietary restrictions make daily eating difficult.

3) Eating at home is healthier: participants agreed that the biggest advantage of eating at home is healthy.

4) Apps: The use of food delivery apps is triggered by lack of time to cook or a lack of skill in the kitchen.

Overview of Key Findings

The data collected throughout our research has led us to some important findings that are briefly presented here:

1) Time management: remote work has disrupted the workers’ schedule routine;

2) Difficulties in the kitchen: there is a need for more attention to those with dietary restrictions;

3) Junk food: food delivery apps are seen as villains for healthy eating;

4) Healthy food: throughout the remote work this was the users’ biggest concern;

Recommendations

Here are the points that need further attention:

a) It would be interesting for the company to take into consideration the scarcity of time of remote workers, seeking to provide a consumer experience that contemplates this specific situation imposed by remote work;

b) The company could establish agreements with commercial partners that can offer more food and eating options for people with dietary restrictions, such as celiacs, diabetics, vegetarians, and vegans.

c) A necessary path for market expansion and sales potentization is to restructure the conceptual image of the delivery app, showing that it is possible to eat in a healthy way by app;

d) Work with the expansion and dissemination of quick and healthy recipes through our digital influencers.

e) Build tabs and design icons in our app that lead the user to more easily find partners that offer the possibility of healthy eating and/or for those who have some type of dietary restriction.

Next steps

i) Kitchen Club: analyze the possibility of creating a subscription club linked to the app, offering recipes and ingredients, making the cooking experience more practical and faster;

ii) Healthy Delivery: create a tab in our application to advertise the closest places that offer healthy food;

iii) Partnerships: establish a partnership with three companies dedicated to producing food for people with restricted diets and offer a trial period for our users;

iv) Nutrition: offer the option of a nutritionist accompaniment to our users;

v) Menu: offer the possibility of buying a closed menu to be consumed during the week and to be delivered without the user having to order every day. Evaluate the possibility of a discount in this order modality.

Reflections

  1. What went well? Overall, all the stages went well. This research was conducted on an individual basis, so I had to follow my own intuitions and knowledge in the area. It would be wonderful to be able to unfold the paths of this research together with a team.
  2. What did not go so well? The daily study is a powerful method, but we often bumped up against the collaboration of the participants. Incomplete forms, delays in sending responses, and difficulty in contacting participants were some of the problems encountered.
  3. What would I change/improve for next time? I would have loved to have conducted this survey within a team and hear input from co-workers and stakeholders. In particular, I would extend the research by refining the questions and delving into other topics that were not explored here (the types of food consumed most frequently, the structure of the participants’ kitchen, the frequency with which participants shop at supermarkets and organize themselves to cook are some examples of avenues that could be explored in the future).

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UX Researcher and Ph. D Philosopher

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Rafael Gargano

Rafael Gargano

UX Researcher and Ph. D Philosopher

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