How to prepare for remote audits: 7 tips to ease stress and achieve compliance
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of our lives, including the way we conduct business. Audits are no exception. Remote auditing was already gaining prominence in the last decade. However, the shift from on-site to online audits was greatly accelerated by the pandemic.
Why are remote audits especially important today?
The focus of organizing our daily tasks places the prevention of spreading the disease at the forefront. Remote audits have had a big role in securing employee safety, business continuity, and compliance, all at once.
The pandemic is still taking its toll globally and preventing the spread of COVID-19 remains a high priority despite rising vaccination rates. Remote audits are still a valuable way to ease and maintain the necessary quality of work.
No matter what happens, audits are and will be mandatory. The shift to remote audit enables one to stay compliant while staying safe and meeting all requirements and actions.
WHY TURN TO REMOTE AUDITING?
● Cost-effective and timesaving
Remote audits are cost-efficient: travel costs are cut entirely, allowing auditors to optimize their time.
Agendas may be adjusted to various needs: a remote audit may enable the use of half-days during audits, thus allowing auditors and auditees to function even in distant time zones.
Half-days can enable a smooth documentation review during an audit, while auditees may use some hours of the working day to complete daily tasks with minor disruptions in their day-to-day working routine.
● Availability of audit participants
In several cases we have witnessed auditees also benefit from remote auditing: two audited companies who share responsibilities for the same project may use their own working spaces and join the remote audit, or even enable (some or all) participants to join the audit from home (depending on the organization’s own decision). Not only that, but service providers may also join, explain their role, and share their processes even from a different country.
● Putting health first
In these times, remote audits are the best way to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they don’t require the physical presence of the auditor and auditees in the same space.
Of course, this depends heavily on the way the audited company is organized. If you have your document management system completely online, then both sides can easily work from the safety of their own home.
● Stress level
Audits are often high-stress situations, especially for participants who perhaps aren’t very familiar with audits.
In remote audits, an additional benefit is that some of the stress is reduced for the audited party: knowing that you will be sharing the room with your colleagues while the almighty auditor is confined on the other part of a screen can help ease stress and make for a smoother experience for first-timers.
WHAT PRESSURE POINTS SHOULD YOU LOOK OUT FOR DURING VIRTUAL AUDITS?
1. Keep your documentation remote-friendly
For a smooth remote audit, your documentation must be online or stored on a computer. Having an online document management system enables you to show the auditor how documentation is stored and allows sharing of files in real time.
If a company relies on paper documentation, the physically archived documentation would typically not be shown during an audit, making it difficult or even impossible for the auditor to evaluate whether all hard-copy documentation is properly managed and stored.
Readily prepared scans of hard-copy documents and a well-organized online documentation system are the key to an efficient and stress-free remote audit.
2. Think about the constraints of physical space
It’s hard to substitute the physical presence of the auditor. Of course, the shift to remote is varies significantly for different types of audits. From our experience, the shift from on-site to remote was quite smooth for GVP audits. At Marti Farm, we witnessed an almost 100% transition to remote organization.
However, other types of audits, such as GMP and GDP, are more specific as they rely heavily on auditing compliance of on-site facilities and hardware. The need for this can still be met through modern technology such as cameras and even drones.
3. Have backup plans for technical setbacks
Perhaps the biggest problem, and thus the fear of both parties during the audit, is what happens if the electronics break down or the Internet connection disappears. Of course, it’s a frustrating part of remote audits that everybody wishes to avoid, but these things can actually happen.
Technical aspects have to be addressed before an audit. The Internet connection is fundamental: any interruption slows down the audit, so it’s always smart to have a plan B ready.
For a remote audit, you need a computer that includes a functional camera, microphone, and speaker.
Test your Internet connection
A bad Internet connection could pose a big problem when interruptions interfere with communication. Clear and precise communication is key to any audit, as both the auditor and auditee need to be on the same page about every step.
We always advise to have a backup hotspot ready. You may be using that Internet connection every single day during your work, but you should be expecting problems on the audit day. Thus, it is fundamental to have a back-up Internet connection, e.g. a mobile phone that can share its network.
Backup is your hero
Have your document management system online, but also have a backup of it. Have a backup for the computer you plan to use as well – accidents such as spilled water can happen at the worst time possible.
You can always have your company’s IT support ready to jump in and solve the problem in such situations. And if nothing helps, don’t worry: the worst that can happen is to take a break until the problem is resolved or ultimately, if the problem cannot be resolved, the audit can be postponed.
4. Organize each role and responsibility beforehand
A careful review of the agenda is always important. In remote audits, it becomes even more important for practical reasons.
When you’re being audited with your team on-site, it’s easier to orchestrate your responsibilities. Non-verbal cues make it easier to know when to jump in, or when it’s your time to cover a topic.
In remote audits, this doesn’t come naturally. Roles should be well-defined during preparation. Organization is critical.
We always put a strong emphasis to organize who will cover which part during audit preparation. You should know when to mute or unmute yourself at every moment and know with certainty when to let your colleague take over.
5. Show your willingness to cooperate
It may seem obvious, but for an auditor who operates remotely, it is very important to have full cooperation of the audited party.
Asking for cooperation is harder when you’re on the other side of the screen. It is far more difficult to access all the documentation you are looking for just by sitting on the other side of the computer and using your voice to kindly ask for each point.
6. Take time to prepare everything
Give yourself enough time to go through the agenda in detail. Try to anticipate the questions the auditor might ask. Go through all relevant material and freshen up your knowledge on your company’s procedures.
Double-check your computer. Make sure your microphone, speakers, and camera work well and that your Internet connection is stable.
Mental preparation itself is also important: try to calm down and not stress so that there is no blockage in the crucial moment due to panic or fear. An audit is not an exam and therefore information doesn’t need to be known by heart. Remember, you can always rely on documents and share the contents of the procedure with the auditor.
7. Keep communication clear and efficient
Even though virtual audits function very well, nothing can replace the ease of face-to-face communication. It’s easier to explain everything to the smallest detail when you’re next to a person, being able to see their gestures and expressions clearly. These non-verbal cues also help prevent misunderstandings, or signals when to proceed with additional explanations.
Communication is therefore of the utmost importance: auditors must ensure they are understood by auditees, while the auditees need to give exact feedback to what is being asked. Everybody needs to be prepared to double-check with questions (even more than when you can easily see the face of the other person in front of you). Make sure that requests have been understood, and that the appropriate answer is given, or the appropriate document is shared.
Our experience with virtual audits
In the end, the most important ingredient for any audit is preparation.
Preparation is vital as it is a factor that you have control of. If you can prepare for an audit as best as possible, the audit itself becomes a much easier process. Marti Farm has significant experience with remote auditing, as well as audit consulting. We can assist you with audit preparation (pre-audit), documentation examination, and provide advice relating to the audit itself.
We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback during our own remote audits – for the functioning of the company, as well as the excellent communication during the audit. The best proof of the excellent course of virtual audits is the fact that Marti Farm’s inspections have had no critical or major findings thus far.
If you have more questions about virtual audits, send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with our QA team.
Ana Prelec, MSc / Head of Quality Assurance Department
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Full company name
Short company name
Marti Farm Ltd. Trade and Services
Marti Farm Ltd.
Lašćinska cesta 40, HR-10000 Zagreb
Planinska ulica 13/2, HR-10000 Zagreb
a limited liability company
Commercial Court of Zagreb
HRK 20,000.00 (paid in its entirety)
Martina Diminić Smetiško, director of the
company (Representing the company
individually and independently, Responsible
person for data protection)
HR3623600001102197724 (Zagrebačka banka)
HR4324020061100628669 (Erste banka)
Full company name: Marti Farm Ltd. Trade and Services
Short company name: Marti Farm Ltd.
Headquarters: Lašćinska cesta 40, HR-10000 Zagreb
Office: Planinska ulica 13/2, HR-10000 Zagreb
Legal form: a limited liability company
Court register: Commercial Court of Zagreb
Registration number: 080751121
Share capital: HRK 20,000.00 (paid in its entirety)
Authorized representative: Martina Diminić Smetiško, director of the company (Representing the company individually and independently, Responsible person for data protection)
Bank account: HR3623600001102197724 (Zagrebačka banka), HR4324020061100628669 (Erste banka)