Remote auditing has become common practice for certification bodies over the last 2 years, with some companies understandably cautious about the challenges that they would be faced with. Now that working from home restrictions are being lifted and we are all used to communicating remotely, we have the option to return to the previous method of on-site auditing, or to continue virtually. Both options have their own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to review the best approach in order to ensure the satisfactory achievement of audit programme objectives.
One of the benefits of virtual auditing is the geographical flexibility that it offers. Auditees and auditors can be at home or at various different sites, whilst still being able to conduct interviews, review documentation and make observations, without having to be in the same room. This allows certification bodies to utilise a larger pool of auditors, not just those based locally, which reduces the possibility of postponements as more auditors are available to complete the audit, including those unable to travel and with accessibility requirements.
Removing the time and cost of commuting creates more hours that can be spent adding value with the auditees and writing audit reports, whilst saving on expenses that are usually billed to the customer. It also avoids any potential travel disruptions and reduces the carbon emissions created from transportation.
With COVID precautions still implemented within many businesses, remote working removes the need for social distancing and protects all stakeholders from the transmission of viruses or any other physical hazards that may be on site. It also allows for audits to continue during any self-isolation periods of auditees and auditors.
Although remote auditing provides a helpful platform for tools such as file and screen sharing and video conferencing, there are limitations for site tours and physical observations. Remote tours are possible but can be subject to availability and difficulties with sound and connectivity; technology is key to a successful remote audit and can be challenging regardless of the setting.
Network connections can hinder and delay interaction throughout an audit, as well as limiting access to relevant databases and folders. There may be situations where video calls are not possible which can lead to communication failures from lack of body language. A lack of IT skills and software knowledge from auditees and auditors can often hamper auditing methods which can ultimately result in an ineffective audit.
Even before COVID-19 impacted face-to-face interaction, ISO19011:2018 added information on remote activities suggesting a combined approach of the remote and on-site application of audit methods, ensuring that it is suitable and balanced, in order to achieve audit objectives. Investigating all the options available to your business during audit preparation and scheduling is the best way to achieve a more efficient and effective auditing experience.