Editor’s note: Sarah Holmes is senior vice president at research firm Magid, Los Angeles. 

We are living in the days of social distancing and isolation, and it might seem like qualitative research is out of reach. While we can’t gather around a focus group table or enter homes for deep-dive ethnography, we can connect with individuals and groups for rich qualitative insights using online and digital tools.

Despite these trying times, our team is having just as many impactful conversations with consumers about what’s important to them, while also acknowledging the unique and trying times of the moment – even if we’re all sitting on our couches.

As a result, the qualitative research team at Magid wants to share some of the ways that we’ve been conducting online qualitative research. Our company has been keeping an eye on the evolving COVID-19 situation and has developed a series of best practices to ensure that researchers are still able to provide consumer-led insights and guidance.

1. Respond with empathy: We’re all going through difficult times right now and it’s impossible to have any conversation with consumers without acknowledging that. As part of our process, we have begun to allow for a short introductory conversation that clears the air around the coronavirus but also asks consumers to be aware of potential impacts to their behaviors in this moment and try to talk around them as much as possible. In the words of Matthew McConaughey, this red light will eventually turn green, and we’ll be there soon enough.

2. Online focus group: As in-person focus groups are no longer an option, we’re applying best practices that we’ve developed over years of doing online focus groups to all of our online research. These include working with smaller groups for video/webcam-based groups (three-to-five instead of six-to-eight); developing and integrating more projective and lateral thinking exercis...