Remote Auditing is not a new thing. It has been around for years but only recently have the drivers changed the dynamics from on-site to remote (or virtual auditing). So what is Remote Auditing and can it be as successful as an on-site audit.
Here in Spring 2020, we are in the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic with many businesses operating with reduced staffing, whilst trying to continue operations together with Government guidelines for social distancing, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) & observing strict hygiene practices.
Not a good time for a regular ISO 14001 audit or even Internal Audits.
However, it is possible to operate Remote Audits under these conditions now and, when hopefully, the pandemic is a thing of the past, in the future.
Indeed, a chart of the percentage of on-site Audits vs Remote Audits would be expected to show a near 100% completion of on-site Audits until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, while during our current lockdown that percentage has swung towards 100% Remote Audits. It will be interesting to see whether it will return, in favour, of on-site Audits or whether the trend will be for a greater number of Remote Audits in the future.
So, whatever the future is for Remote Audits, let’s explore some issues related to Remote Auditing
Firstly, What is a Remote Audit?
A remote audit should be designed to deliver the same outcome as a traditional “onsite” audit but using electronic methods to remotely obtain audit evidence and evaluate it objectively in order to determine the extent of conformity to the audit criteria.
Remote audit techniques are similar to those used in a traditional onsite audit, but you can share files via email, OneDrive or Google Drive. In addition, documents can be shared via video conference using tools, such as Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as allowing for interviews. The remote audit can deliver efficiencies especially in the review documents and records, which can be even more effective than in an on-site audit.
Some parts of the audit can present difficulties during a Remote Audit especially where it involves the observation of a manufacturing or operational process. In these cases, remote audits can use live video or even surveillance video to gather the necessary audit evidence.
So, do Remote Audits offer any specific benefits over Onsite Audits. Here are a few benefits to consider:
Reduction in travel costs
With many organisations storing their document electronically and accessible from anywhere, such as through a cloud portal, it makes economic sense to reduce travelling and subsistence costs by conducting a Remote Audit on these documents. Personal experience from supporting one of my clients has saved over £30,000 of travel cost through the completion of Remote Audits.
Less environmental impact
With the lesser travelling comes a reduction in environmental impact in the form reduced CO2 emissions, which may help all parties to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions as well as the reduction in other environmental impacts, such as use of hotel accommodation,
Better auditing of “difficult” locations.
Some locations within an audit can be difficult to access for many reasons, such as an isolated area or region, or where strict visas or permits are required. Conducting a remote audit in these situations can increase the accessibility of the site to the audit process.
Onsite Audit logistics
Given the complex logistics for some onsite audits, such as booking conference rooms, arranging audit team accommodation, interruptions to employees’ regular workflow, and other related inconveniences, the Remote Audit can reduce these overheads to the completion of the audit programme.
With the Audit Team and, maybe even, the Auditee working from their home location, the Audit will feel more comfortable and less adversarial, leading to increased audit productivity in comparison with an on-site audit, needing fewer hours to complete a given audit task.
So, the benefits look very attractive. However, it is worth looking at some of the barriers to implementing Remote Audits:
Recognition of Remote Audits
The certification and accreditation bodies have not fully embraced Remote Audits in the past as they did not fit their perspectives on an effective audit process. They have concerns about the allocation of audit time for Remote Audits, Auditor competency to deliver the audits and their effectiveness compared to an Onsite Audit.
With the current Covid-19 pandemic, this view has changed, at least, for now with Remote Audits becoming the norm.
Issues with technology
Technology is a wonderful thing. It can be a great enabler for Remote Auditing. However, it bring significant challenges, such as network and Wi-Fi connections, that may not very reliable, technical difficulties for access corporate networks via Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections or organisation bans on video conferencing software, which can prevent Remote Audits from being effective.
All parties need to ensure that they fully participate in the Remote Audit, with the need for Auditees to give their full attention to the Remote Audit by scheduling their time rather than considering a Remote Audit to be less important than an on-site Audit. Similarity, Auditors need to ensure that they can fully engage with the Remote Auditing process and to overcome the difficulties of the interpersonal communication skills and understanding non-verbal communications within the Remote Audit.
Auditors, who have been trained and completed large numbers of on-site Audits, may not fully accept that Remote Audits can be as effective as an onsite audits. Auditors may feel that they can only trust on-site audits because they believe they can trust the audit only, if they have been physically present at the Audit and Site Tour & if they have physical access to audit evidence.
Auditors may lack the training and experience for conducting Remote Audits, which can lead to an inability to collect sufficient audit evidence and, so, assess the evidence objectively. It is crucial for the Audit Team to have received relevant training to be able carry out an effective Remote Audit.
In conclusion, it can be seen that a Remote Auditing can be beneficial to both, the Audit Team and Auditee providing the barrier to an effective Remote Audit can be overcome
In the next article in this series on Remote Auditing, I will look at the equipment needed for a successful Remote Audit covering audio and video devices.
In the meantime, you should check out our YouTube Channel – EMSmastery, you can watch our video series on Remote Auditing and subscribe for new videos released each week.
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