Qualitative research in the world of hybrid working

Beginning my career in qualitative research in 2021 was a little different from what I might have expected pre-pandemic

Instead of starting out in qualitative research with viewing facilities, in home interviews & train journeys across the UK with bulky stimulus packs, I was introduced to research methods online with virtual groups, Zoom links and at home moderating, all in a time in which it was still uncertain when and if we would go back.

Although for my colleagues, this style of qualitative research would have been a strange transition and one that needed getting used to in March 2020, for me it was my initial experience of the industry, and one that quickly became the default.

In-person research was spoken about with a sense of nostalgia, and something that was still an abstract concept to me after watching and moderating virtual groups still a couple months in. Rather than undergoing this transition from in person to online myself, I experienced the eventual opening of viewing facilities and slow and very gradual transition back to in-person research again.

Thus, witnessing the Nursery’s first in-person focus group since the start of pandemic was an exciting moment, particularly since it was also my first time experiencing what we have always understood as qualitative research. Even more so was carrying out my first in-person group, after having moderated virtually until that point. The buzz of getting people together, hearing their opinions and reading their expressions was something I personally enjoyed a lot, and there was a particular energy and dynamic about it I had not experienced prior, whilst doing virtual research.

On top of this, both methods require their own best practices and researcher toolkits to keep in mind. So, although they are principally the same thing, in practice they each call for their own learnings and skill which should be acknowledged. This is a topic my colleagues Lucy Foylan and Emma McHarg have explored in more depth, and will be presenting a paper on, at the MRS Impact Conference in March.

As I learned more about in-person research, it felt as though I had entered the industry in reverse to what was traditionally experienced. This entry to the industry could become more common, as it is perhaps true that research will not perfectly mirror how it looked pre-Covid for some time. But it is worth highlighting qualitative researchers wield a whole host of methods in their arsenal now, allowing for qualitative research to be tailored in order to fit a brand’s specific needs. Consequentially, the possibility of newer, creative, and wider insights (which we say at The Nursery helps brands grow) is an exciting and optimistic prospect.