The trouble with remote audit and document control
With the pandemic meaning that social distancing measures, business closures and restrictions on non-essential travel are still in place, a remote audit remains a necessary alternative to visiting organisations in person. For organisations facing continued uncertainty and challenges, it’s more important than ever to retain required standards and meet regulatory requirements. There is also the expectation that offsite auditing and document control will continue in some capacity post-Covid as businesses adapt to alternative ways of working.
While there are some drawbacks and reservations relating to auditing remotely, adapting to this practice helps to ensure business processes are adhered to correctly. This will potentially highlight anything that isn’t up to standard, allowing you to identify actions to address this. It will also ensure businesses are well-prepared for future changes in the industry as remote working becomes the 'new normal'.
How is remote auditing performed?
Remote auditing replaces a face-to-face visit with technology. There are a range of techniques that auditors can use such as:
- video calls
- live streaming to conduct a tour of the building
- electronic access to documents and records
- screen sharing
- one-to-one interviews with employees
Each technique has its own benefits. Video calls, for example, allow auditors to see the person they’re talking to, which will help them pick up on some aspects of non-verbal communication - such as body language and facial expression - that would be missed in a phone call.
What are the challenges with remote audit?
To keep with our videoconferencing example, virtual meetings can still be much less personal than physical meetings. And, if the person you are interviewing does not turn on their camera or have webcam access, noticing important verbal cues is practically impossible.
Other challenges that come with remote audit and document control include:
- Unreliable technology – an unstable internet connection, for example, can cause disruptions and impact productivity
- Cybersecurity issues – the pandemic has caused a sharp increase in the number of cyberattacks, so systems must be secure
- Risk of inefficient document control – trying to find documents lost in email or shared systems can waste time and effort, and cause errors through having multiple or duplicate files
- Fraudulent activity – documents shared with auditors can be manipulated, and auditors must be sure that they are viewing original documents and source data
- Homeworking challenges – as in all industries, working from home can create issues such as family distractions as well as increased security risks
The role of remote auditing during the coronavirus pandemic
For highly regulated organisations, it’s crucial to maintain the correct procedures and processes to keep things running as normally as possible during a situation like this. Experts in the field state how important this is in order to support areas such as healthcare, protecting staff and patients: “The need for confidence does not go away. If anything, it is even more vital at a time when the world is struggling with a pandemic. Personal protective equipment and medical devices are just two areas of regulated conformity assessment that will be needed to keep front-line staff and patients safe in weeks and months to come.” 
Having to rely on remote communication has strengthened the need to have robust software and technology tools in place to manage businesses processes. Whether or not we ease out of lockdown in the coming months, offsite audits are unlikely to become a thing of the past as industry experts predict that the pandemic will cause permanent change to the way auditors work.
In this context, the right technology can make a huge difference in not only your compliance activities, but in ensuring that all employees can access necessary documents securely, raise any non-conformances or near misses, and ensure that information is complete, accurate and up-to-date. Find out more about our quality management software and how it can help your business manage remote audit and document control.
 Paul Simpson, CQP FCQI, ‘A Critical Time for Remote Auditing’: https://www.quality.org/knowledge/critical-time-remote-auditing