No matter how many audits you have performed, your first remote audit is sure to be a challenge. Good preparation is the key to success. In this article, we will give you some valuable tips along the way.

This is part five of a seven-part series of articles on remote audits:

Conducting a remote audit requires thorough preparation - even more thorough than in the case of an on-site audit. The auditor will determine who needs to participate, when, and through what channels. At first, this sounds similar to a traditional audit schedule; however, it becomes nearly impossible to make any changes during the remote audit: Rescheduling a meeting with participants in different locations can quickly lead to chaos.

Another embarrassing mistake to avoid is confusion over time zones. With on-site audits, there was no reason to specify the time zone in the audit plan - it was always the time zone of the location. However, when web conference participants are on different continents, a small mistake can have big consequences.

As for the duration of the remote audit, we can say from experience that a remote audit should not be shorter than an on-site audit. On the contrary, there are good reasons to plan for a longer audit duration, especially if this is your first remote audit.

  • Technical issues (e.g., connectivity problems) may cause a delay. It is advisable to anticipate and plan for additional time to compensate for outages
  • Auditors will need more time to process information via screen than if they were on-site
  • Participants will need frequent breaks because web conferences are more stressful than face-to-face meetings

Precisely because web conferencing can be exhausting, it is recommended to organize several shorter sessions and spread them out over several days, rather than scheduling one very intense day.

Connectivity and sound quality issues are common with web conferencing. They can never be completely eliminated - but it helps immensely to test the connection beforehand and ensure that all audit participants are familiar with the required hardware and software. The entity being audited must also ensure that a quiet environment is available for all participants to avoid interference and background noise.

Before conducting the audit, you must also determine whether sessions need to be recorded. While recording sessions can be useful to document the audit, there are data security and privacy issues to consider. Not only do you need consent from all participants, but you also need to discuss the security aspect and determine the terms of storage and deletion (see Part 4 and Part 7). When seeking consent, remember to specify whether you will be recording audio, video, or both. If you rely on recordings to document the results, make sure there is a way to determine who said what.

Remember, however, that if you and the auditee decide that the sessions may not be recorded, it is still technically possible (but not allowed!) to take screenshots or record the session in some other way. It goes without saying that this would be a serious breach of confidentiality and professional integrity. Thus, the remote audit requires a certain level of trust between the auditor and the auditee.

After the preparation comes the actual audit. You can read more about this inpart six - tips for conducting remote audits.

Dr. Thijs Willaert

Dr. Thijs Willaert is Head of Marketing & Communications for the Sustainability and Food Safety segments. He is also an auditor for the external audit of sustainability reports. His areas of interest include sustainability management, sustainable procurement, and the digitalization of the audit landscape.