We’ve quickly entered a new phase of the virus pandemic within Europe and the UK. Now that governments and people have at last understood the implications of this terrible situation, we now need to work within new boundaries and constraints. Remote audits and COVID 19 provide a new approach to assessment of a management system.

Certificates for management systems have dates for expiry and the need to conduct regular periodic audits continues. Within the context of a global pandemic, everything could simply grind to a halt.

Certification audits are now being conducted remotely rather than by an audit team visiting a facility. Having conducted day 3 of a re-certification remote audit today, I felt it my duty to provide a few bullet points covering the experience.

Key points

  1. Use your home office and ensure you inform any family members of the need for a quiet place
  2. Set up the process by talking to your client and agreeing which software to use. Most people seem to use Microsoft Teams or Skype
  3. Amend your audit programme to show times when skype meeting will be started. Send this to the client and agree final version. My latest programme was at issue v7.
  4. On the morning – 15 minutes before starting, check the system by contacting your client through the chosen software.
  5. Be ready, get a glass of water for the first meeting, make sure you keep time very accurately
  6. Print out the programme, the standards used and any relevant sheets such as certification body info and be sure your contact has this information.
  7. This process works well if you have already visited the site and know processes and people. Less so if you are not familiar with the activities of the client company
  8. When doing the audit, give people chance to speak. Don’t dominate the conversation. Also don’t silently read a document as the others will wonder what you are doing. Tell them.
  9. Do the remote audit by holding each meeting for 30 – 45 minutes at a time. Then read the procedures or other information for 45 – 90 mins.
  10. Call back to get clarifications and discussion.
  11. Move on by scheduling a new meeting which should be already within the timetable
  12. Ask for stuff to be sent by email. It can be very effective to receive info a few seconds after requesting it. Screensharing is also very effective.
  13. Summarise the session if it’s a final meeting with that person before moving on.
  14. Give yourself time for a leg stretch and a break. A ‘normal’ audit has gaps and breaks in between the more intensive sessions where audit evidence is gathered.
  15. ISO 19011 has been revised to include recognition of remote or virtual audits (Section A16). It provides some useful information such as using floor plans, eliminating background noise, permission to take screenshots, ensuring confidentiality. Pretty standard stuff, but at least it does recognise remote audits as one way of gathering audit evidence.
  16. Writing more detailed notes in legible handwriting is also important as these notes may be requested by UKAS or similar accreditation body who may wish to see that time and effort was expended whilst following the audit programme.

At the time of writing this article (19th March 2020), COVID-19 is rapidly spreading throughout the population of the UK. In extraordinary circumstances such as these, remote auditing offers a really workable alternative to face-to-face audits. The client auditees today were quite enthusiastic about the process and the audit provided a way of gathering detailed information. The focus offered by remote auditing actually improves the concentration of the auditor. Clearly defined audit pathways are followed as a result of this effort.

Certification bodies, such as the internationally recognised body I have worked for as a sub-contractor for 24 years have issued clear guidance based upon IAF MD4 (2018). The industry classification together with the type of audit and standard all play a part in the amount of the audit that can be remote and the amount of on-site visit. This ranges from 50% up to 100% meaning that remote audits are now a significant mechanism within the certification process.

Let us all gather more experience of conducting remote audits before confirming their value as a valuable tool for assessing management systems. After today and from personal direct experience, the message seems to be “so far, so good”.

John Marsden –  19th March 2020