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Remote Audits: Worthless or Worthwhile?

Mar 03, 2021

Why Remote Audits?

Remote audits are not new. The international standard for doing management systems audits, ISO 19011, has included remote auditing options for many years.

Now, remote auditing is getting more attention and wider use due to COVID-19 and limitations on in-person work.

Have you already had experiences with remote auditing? Have they been good experiences or poor ones? We would LOVE to hear from you. Take our Lessons Learned survey here.

Auditee and Auditor Perspectives

You may be an auditee who has received requests to be audited remotely by your registrar, insurance company, customers, or others. You want to know how to interact with them to achieve a successful audit.

You may be the audit program manager, audit team leader, or auditor getting ready to do remote internal audits or supplier audits. You want to be effective, yet there are significant differences from in-person audits.

From our personal experiences and reading many comments about remote audits, the feedback ranges across the full spectrum of ‘worthless’ to ‘worthwhile’. Often, the perspectives are different from auditor (went well) and auditee (not so well). We want to focus on getting value for you from both perspectives.

Advantages

  1. Get some feedback on your processes. The limitations on in-person work may tempt you to pause auditing. However, without any auditing going on, it is like wearing blinders. You are hoping all is going well. Hope is not a strategy!

  2. Go deeper into records to evaluate trends and effectiveness. Our post from last year, Remote Auditing: How Well Does it Work? (March 2020), took the view of going deeper into the records and evaluating the effectiveness of the processes audited. Many audits rely on generic checklists that list the requirements of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001, or ISO 17025 in question form. This generic approach limits the auditor to verifying whether the defined processes are implemented. It’s time to look for how effective the processes are. With proper attitude and planning, remote audits can help with that.

  3. Reduce distractions. It is common for co-workers to snag the auditee as the audit team walks around during an in-person audit. They may be less likely to interrupt a video conference. Seeing someone with headphones on can be a deterrent for interrupting.
  4. Reduce travel costs and travel time. This reduction helps everyone (except the travel industry).

  5. Flexibility in scheduling. With the reduction in travel time, auditors can have better time utilization which results in higher income potential.

This all sounds good so far, right? Let’s also consider some disadvantages.

Disadvantages

  1. Limits on our 5 senses. You see only the camera view (if they are allowed to use one around the site) and miss the large view. You cannot smell or hear the normal noises of work being performed. Your powers of observation are limited.

  2. Technology permissions can be restrictive. Company policies on which platforms can be used (or which are prohibited) are essential to understand in the planning stages.

  3. Technology functionality. All the auditors and auditees need to be able to function with whatever technology is selected. Each platform has its unique features (and quirks).

  4. Technology failures. Busy households compete for bandwidth. Power outages or glitches can break the connections.

  5. Confidentiality concerns. There are multiple differences for remote auditing. Both auditee and auditors could be in home environment which may give others access to see and hear confidential information. Some participants may be working in public spaces. We address a variety of issues in more detail in our online courses on remote auditing: Strategies for Remote Audit Success and our free introductory course, Remote Audits: Worthless or Worthwhile?

  6. Filtering information. The culture of the auditee’s organization or the potential risk to the auditee from a poor audit result can trigger the filtering of information presented to the auditor. The auditor must be resourceful, request specific information, and look at trends to help avoid being hoodwinked (a favorite word of my late brother, Joe).

Each Remote Audit is Unique

The feasibility of doing a remote audit is dependent upon many factors. In some cases, the audit objective is not attainable through remote auditing techniques. We recommend that you follow a risk assessment process to tailor your approach to the specific conditions for an audit, then decide on your best approach.

Here are some of the key factors to consider:

  1. Audit objective. What is the purpose of the audit? Is it attainable?
  2. Scope. Size, complexity, and other factors matter.
  3. Documentation. How much documentation will need to be reviewed? How will you manage access and organize the information?
  4. Location of participants. Who will be working from non-work sites? Will there be privacy?
  5. Number of participants. How many people will be involved? Will there be concurrent interviews by different audit team members?
  6. Technology. Will ‘low tech’ be enough? How ‘high tech’ do we need to be?
  7. Auditor workspace. How can all the documentation be managed while maintaining the interview relationships?
  8. Safety considerations. Do high risk areas require intrinsically safe equipment (e.g., video)?

Essential Tools

  1. Conference tools for interviews. Are you limited to phone or is video available?
  2. Documentation storage platform. Is information and evidence on auditee platform or accessible to auditors without auditee interaction?
  3. Clock or timers. How will you stay on schedule and respect the agenda?

Next Steps

Take a closer look at the specifics of remote auditing through our online courses:

Contact us for assistance. We would enjoy helping you. Here are a few ideas:

  • We can do a workshop for your auditors to guide your team on the essentials for planning and conducting remote audits for your organization.
  • No team? We can mentor you through the process and guide you through the remote audit process. We can be an active audit team member or support you behind the scenes.
  • We can complete audits for you using remote auditing techniques.

We are collecting lessons learned from remote audits. We would LOVE to hear about your experiences. Share your insights via our survey.

Resources Related to Remote Auditing

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