Reimagining Research During COVID-19

How we’re rethinking — and improving — research in the face of the pandemic

Traci Mehlman
May 21, 2020 · 4 min read

This is the first in a series of articles by Facebook researchers about how we’re responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics include remote research tips, navigating a shifting work landscape, and strategies for moving quickly to support community needs.

Like research teams at many companies, we’ve had to reimagine how we approach our work in order to protect the health and safety of our researchers and participants. But those changes are just the start. The pandemic has already brought about a seismic shift in how we do research. While the learning curve has been steep, COVID-19 has also led to innovations and improvements that we hope will endure long after the crisis is over.

As the challenges of performing UX research have intensified, so has the potential impact. In the face of limited in-person interactions, people are counting on our products more than ever to stay connected with their communities. They need intuitive, satisfying experiences that contribute to feelings of certainty and connectedness.

The impacts of COVID-19 will be lasting, and we’re investing in a number of initiatives to set researchers up for the long term. Here are a few changes the Facebook Research team has made during the pandemic:

We’re creating safety and sanitization protocols for remote deployment of hardware prototypes directly to participants. Scaling and expanding our remote research toolkit has not only helped us adapt to the constraints of our new reality, but also enabled us to reach an even larger and more diverse population of people. The safety improvements won’t be limited to remote research. We plan to apply the new protocols to our physical lab spaces when they reopen.

Like many other research teams, we’ve shifted toward surveys, diary studies, remote moderated studies, and other distance methods in place of in-person studies. While we were fortunate to already have access to third-party remote research tools, we needed to scale — fast. That meant making sure researchers were fully aware of the range of tools and their functionality. Compiling and sharing best practices, expanding our tooling support, and facilitating virtual trainings let us make better use of these platforms across the team.

It’s more important than ever to be intentional about when and how we engage with participants. While we’ve always had policies to ensure that our research is designed and conducted thoughtfully, we’ve implemented additional reviews to make sure studies are appropriate for the current situation.

For example, we’ve set up additional procedures for sign-off on all research related to COVID-19 before it goes live to ensure that it’s been screened for sensitivity and utility. This focused oversight has not only helped us optimize our work but also created opportunities for collaboration across product teams.

We continue to build and plan for the future even as we navigate this ongoing transition into a fully remote working organization. We’ve pivoted our global onboarding programs for new hires to be entirely virtual, and we’ll be piloting a fully remote research internship model this summer. These efforts and the insights we’ve gained from them have allowed us to keep growing our research community during a time of ambiguity and rapid change.

We’ve also been rethinking how to best support our Facebook Research team and maintain a strong connection with the broader research community. In lieu of traditional all-hands meetings, conferences, and recruiting events, we’re experimenting with virtual panels and new online event formats. These have already enabled us to connect with more people, across a broader geographic range, than ever before, both internally and externally.

These examples just scratch the surface of what we’ve learned so far. Stay tuned for more posts about how Facebook researchers are navigating these unprecedented times both professionally and personally. A couple of teasers: we’ll deep-dive into tips and tricks for running research remotely and provide a glimpse into how research is informing product features in response to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, our hearts go out to everyone who’s facing more urgent challenges right now. We hope you’re getting the support you need, and that you’ll come out on the other side of this crisis healthy and strong.

Author: Traci Mehlman, Research Director, Head of Research Operations

Traci is Head of Research Operations at Facebook. Her team optimizes and innovates the infrastructure needed to do research at scale—spanning everything from participant recruiting, vendor and tools management, learning development, onboarding, lab facilitation, and other programs that enable researchers to do great research.

Illustrator: Drew Bardana

Facebook Research

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