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As a supplier of GFSI consulting and auditing services we recently began a new service and conducted an virtual internal audit, for a growing sauce and sandwich filling client. Here’s what we learnt in terms of how to conduct a successful and effective virtual auditing session.

Audit preparation for an effective virtual audit

Information in advance

We knew that the dynamics of virtual auditing would be quite different compared to being on-site, side by side with the client. But the recent pandemic has made many organisations consider working methods, and remote working has become, for many, a viable option, that is likely to continue going forward. Time spent preparing, in advance, was key. The audit scope had been agreed and was predominantly an internal audit of documentation, being Section 5, Product Control, from the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard. The auditor spent some time, approximately a week before the scheduled audit, going through the Interpretation Guide to list all documentation that could, and should, be shared during the audit. This would play a big part in ensuring an effective virtual audit. The list was emailed to the site contact as a very clear, concise, bullet point list by email. This was then followed up to ensure that it was understood and to agree in advance how the documentation would be shared for examination. In this specific case the auditee requested that she email documents as and when needed, but would prepare them in advance.

Conducting the audit

During on site audits, most documentation is essentially on a computer, or is paper based and held in folders. This is why, especially for audits of documented systems, an effective virtual audit is possible. The auditor proceeded to describe carefully each clause in Section 5 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard, and, supported by the Interpretation Guide, requested specific documents and records to look for compliance. These were duly emailed and then opened, using screen share, so that any follow up questions (to clarify content) could be linked precisely to the shared documents, visibly, and clearly to the auditee. Being that this was an expert independent internal audit against the BRCGS Standard, a huge advantage presented itself, one that is not really possible during a certification body audit where consulting is not permitted owing to conflict of interest. The auditor, in this case, was able to share website images, document templates and other resources, on occasion, to help the auditee understand fully, where requirements for improvement were identified during the audit. Oftentimes these were then emailed back to the auditee for their use.

Virtual audit timings

The timings had been agreed in advance. We decided to start at 9 a.m. break every 90 minutes and finish at 4.30 p.m. This worked well in terms of attention span.

Verify the virtual platform used!

We chose to use Zoom as we hold a premium account. The week before the virtual audit, we asked the auditee to sign in to the link provided. This enabled us to check that we could connect, be heard, see the screen share clearly. It also allowed for the chat box and reactions icons to be understood for use.  The whole exercise took less than 10 minutes but we think is one of the most crucial factors in preparing for a virtual auditing session.

Conclusion

The above helped the day to be enjoyable and immersive. The quality of assessment of documents was not in doubt. The time and cost of travel had been eliminated. That by the way is an important consideration for MQM Consulting as travel reduction, to reduce our carbon footprint, through the use of vritual platform auditing and training, where possible, has become an environmental objective within our ISO 14001 Environment Management System. The feedback received was great, which is fantastic and validates the fact that an effective virtual audit can be engaging and problem free! Even as we are gradually lifting out of lockdown, businesses may well realise that, with the time and costs saved with virtual auditing (for instance travel costs), and the engagement and effectiveness that is possible, virtual auditing is the way to go!

The on site audit could effectively be restricted now to audits where it is important to be present to see behaviour, site, condition and processes. Even then, for simple situations and processes, a video audit process is possible using a platform such as Whatsapp video. This MQM has already done on behalf of the Certification Body HACCP International where materials such as flooring require on site assessment, and very effective it has been too!

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