Are remote audits the right fit for your business

How to know if remote audits make sense for your company: important pros, cons, and things to consider when deciding if you should implement this option.

by Jillian Bernstein

Today, nearly everything is available in a digital format. But just because it can be – should it? In the case of EHS management, this question has popped up most recently around remote audits. While this alternative to onsite evaluations isn’t new, it’s become a viable one in the emergence and wake of a pandemic. Even with the concern of COVID-19 starting to take a back seat, audits are still moving more and more to remote options. Yet rising trends aren’t right for every company. Below we share our insights into what to keep in mind before implementing remote audits in your compliance program.

Remote audits can save your company time and money

Even if you, I, and every EHS professional in the world, knows that strong EHS management can benefit the bottom-line, it’s still often viewed as a cost sink. Despite the potential for decreased costs from penalties, workers’ claims, and high insurance premiums, the ROI benefits from effective regulatory compliance remain indirect – and often forgotten. Remote audits can change that thought process with tangible time and cost savings.

Performing the audit remotely takes away the need for travel time and expenses. This is not only for the auditor but also internal staff who would join an onsite assessment. Additionally, as “remote” auditors won’t need to maximize their time on site, they won’t need to multiply the team involved. This reduced number of auditors results in a smaller price tag. Companies can then further capitalize on these savings by doing work upfront through self-assessments. By providing more input ahead of time, your team can cut down the onsite hours needed to complete the audit process.

… But only if your company is well-equipped for them.

The organizations that will most benefit from potential time and cost savings are those have the right equipment and know-how to roll them out. Auditors working offsite will need the most precise information as possible – and a lot of it. So, you’ll need to be sure that your technology can offer the quality and quantity they need.

Remote audits work best when sites have advanced technologies already in place to support the process. These include video-conferencing tools to communicate more efficiently and equipment to provide an accurate view of the site, such as smart glasses with built-in cameras. However, setting up, implementing, and training staff on these technologies will take their own portion of time and money.

Remote audits can help you go deeper into data

Admittedly, there is a great deal of debate about the quality of remote audit results. Some believe that these offsite options lack in their completeness and even accuracy. However, different perspectives aside, it’s clear that remote audits can provide a more expansive view of non-compliance in an organization.

With a malleable timeline, remote audits can allow more time to deep dive into programs and records. Looking further into areas that onsite time constraints would cut short, your team can gain a broader understanding of underlying concerns. And these expanded insights extend to your corporate overview of compliance as well. As auditors don’t need to go onsite, teams can potentially do more audits per year and spot more trends across sites.

… As long as the situation – and security protocols – allow.

Remote audits don’t offer a cookie-cutter solution. One of which is missing crucial first-hand findings. Certain situations require in-person observations for an accurate evaluation of the site. Examples include safety audits with onsite testing, supply-chain-management evaluations requiring information from suppliers, as well as assessments of site culture, in which interviews and observation are important factors.

Another concern is data transmission. Some companies will not allow for the large amount of electronic information required in a remote audit to be shared externally.

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More people can participate in and provide input for remote audits

Due to their flexible structure, remote audits allow you to spread the process over a longer period (weeks or even months). This means that you can get more team members involved in the process – and get them all more engaged.

In areas where EHS and other teams overlap, your team can uncover potential issues from other points of view. For instance, finding new risks related to workplace stress and ergonomics from HR’s perspective, or gathering key input from maintenance or quality assurance teams. Not only will this approach help to eliminate blind spots of recurring non-compliance issues across your organization but also to build a culture of compliance within it.

… Yet beware of remote audits going overboard.

While it can be beneficial to incorporate experiences outside of EHS, having more people involved may complicate the process. This is especially the case with team members who are unfamiliar with the audit process and could potentially add extra work and uncertainties for the auditors. Additionally, in line with the data considerations already mentioned, the more people you loop in, the more security gaps you could create for sensitive information.

If you do go the remote audit route, make sure you’re ready

Regardless of where we stand with COVID-19, remote audits are still relevant – If you decide that this option is right for your business, make sure to start off on the right foot. Set up your remote audit for success by first performing a time-saving From there, allocate resources to reinforce your team for the most leverageable results, including training, technology, and equipment. And, lastly, once the remote audit is done – don’t stop there. Use the experience to keep building the culture through ongoing compliance, making audits only one piece of the puzzle – wherever you perform them.

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