While face-to-face sessions remain the gold standard of employee focus group research, virtual or web-based groups are often a smart choice, especially when you want to include many employees from far-flung locations, have limited budget for travel, and/or don’t have much time to complete your research.

But, despite the fact that virtual sessions are an efficient way to conduct focus groups, they’re also challenging to do well. Here are five ways to make them more effective:


Choose the right topic 
Emotionally charged issues (such as morale or attitudes about manager communication) are best reserved for in-person focus groups, where the facilitator can more easily establish an atmosphere of trust.


Invite more people 
Studies show that people are more likely to miss a conference call than a face-to-face meeting. As a result, you need to invite more employees to participate in a virtual focus group than you would for an in-person session, to ensure an adequate sample size.


Make it interactive 
Don’t forget to use the great features that are part of most web-conferencing software: visuals/slides, real-time polls and live chats. They will help you hold the attention of participants and encourage discussion.


Create a level playing field
Resist the temptation to have some employees join a face-to-face focus group via conference call. This approach creates a negative experience for those on the phone since it’s difficult to participate fully.


Be a strong facilitator
Virtual focus groups are a challenge to conduct because the facilitator can’t pick up on non-verbal cues and judge reactions so develop a structured agenda and use participants’ names to encourage everyone to take part.



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