It was July 2020 when we last covered the possibility of returning to face-to-face research on our blog, but it looks like COVID-19 had different plans for all of us. Ten months later, we are still living in a pandemic and wondering if June will finally see the UK returning to “normal” – whatever that looks like!

With remote working and remote user research becoming the standard, returning to face-to-face research may not be a huge priority to everyone, but for the PFR team knowing how our participants feels is still essential. To gauge what our community thinks about returning to face-to-face research, we asked our participants to share their opinion with the government roadmap in mind.

🤝 Returning to face-to-face research

Let’s start with the main takeaway from our survey. Keeping in mind that face-to-face research sessions can legally resume from 17th May, we wanted to know when people would feel comfortable sitting in a room with a researcher or attending a small focus group and what kind of safety measures they expect.

83% of people would feel comfortable taking part in face-to-face research after 17th May.

This is an even higher number than the results we gathered in July last year, when “only” 72% of people were willing to attend in-person sessions, which points to more people feeling comfortable with the idea of sitting in a room with a researcher in the second half of 2021.

Let’s look at what the people that are keen to take part in research want to know before they attend face-to-face sessions. These are the most important safety measures for participants.

+ Having a detailed hygiene protocol: 40% of people this would make them feel more comfortable.
+ What PPE is available for participants and researchers: 34% indicated that this was important.
+ How many people are taking part in the research: 32% of participants said this would impact their decision.

It sounds like most participants will be expecting some kind of COVID-19 protocol to be in place at least until 21st June, when restrictions are supposed to be lifted. Meeting expectations and regular communication are going to be two critical steps when going back to face-to-face research, so make sure these are top of your list.

Onto the ethics of returning to face-to-face research.

Only 14% of participants think returning to research is the wrong thing to do after 17th May.

When we look at the government’s roadmap, 17th May isn’t the only date of significance in the coming months: 43% of participants said they would feel even more comfortable taking part in face-to-face research after all restrictions were lifted (forecasted to happen on 21st June).

The group that is more comfortable returning to face-to-face research are key workers, with 91% saying they would attend in-person sessions from 17th May. By contrast, 31% of full-time carers would not feel comfortable returning to face-to-face research after the next roadmap milestone.

People who are less comfortable returning to face-to-face

In this section, we focus on the more reluctant people to return to face-to-face research and their reasons. Out of the people who think 17th May is too soon to restart in-person research, 77% of them think it’s actually unethical/the wrong thing to invite people to do so.

14% of this group don’t actually know when they are likely to feel comfortable about going back to face-to-face research.

Still, some of the people who would not take part in research right now confirmed they are likely to change their mind after 21st June, as long as all restrictions are lifted.

There are plenty more considerations about returning to face-to-face research, but we hope these stats can help you start planning for it. Sure, remote research is great – we’ve seen lower drop-out rates and fewer no-shows –, but some sessions just have to be run in person. Testing physical products, sessions with people who require assistive technology and some focus groups are just a few examples of research that is simply more effective in person.

If you are thinking about going back to face-to-face sessions after 17th May and have any questions, then get in touch to have a chat with our team. Also, if you are looking for a Bristol-based studio, check out User Viewing and get in touch to find out more about our safety protocols.



If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user research or usability testing get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.