The lack of visual cues may hinder communication between the auditor and the auditee, but software tools can enhance audit team communication.
Audit Team Communication Requirements
During the opening meeting, the lead auditor is responsible for confirming the “formal communication channels between the audit team and the auditee…[and] the auditee being kept informed of audit progress during the audit” (ISO 19011:2018, Clause 6.4.3). Typically, the audit program manager will follow the lead auditor during the audit. In that situation, audit team communication with the auditee is direct and verbal. However, if the audit team consists of multiple auditors, the lead auditor also needs to establish a method of communication between the team members and the lead auditor. Team members need to make the lead auditor aware of any potential nonconformities, but more critical information includes:
- audit trails that require follow-up by auditors in other process areas
- any delay experienced by team members
- if an audit team member is ahead of schedule
Communication Limitations During On-Site Audits
During an on-site audit, it is not uncommon to have limited communication with the rest of the team, because the team is interviewing auditees and walking through the facility–not sitting at their computer. Sometimes your cellular signal is inadequate for texting or other messenger services such as Slack. It may also be more difficult to have private discussions between team members during an on-site audit. Usually, the audit schedule is very tight, and team discussions must wait until lunch breaks or scheduled team discussions. Unfortunately, these limitations frequently result in the follow-up of audit trails waiting until the very end of the audit, instead of addressing audit trails at more convenient times in the middle of the audit.
Communication Between Auditors During Remote Audits
During a remote audit, all of the audit team members will readily be able to exchange information by email, text, or Slack. Besides, applications like Google Docs allow multiple auditors to type in the same audit report simultaneously. Therefore, auditors can type a specific follow-up item in the section of the audit report, where another auditor will be typing their notes for the applicable audit area. For example, if one auditor is interviewing incoming inspection activities, they can type a note for the auditor that will be auditing calibration to review the calibration certificates for inspection devices used in the incoming inspection process. If an audit team leader needs more time, they can type a quick note for the lead auditor about the need for more time. The lead auditor can also quickly send a Slack message to the rest of the audit team, asking if anyone can aid the audit team member that is behind schedule. This communication is efficient, documented directly within the report, and occurs in real-time. The result is that communication between team members is more effective, and the audit is completed earlier.
Improvement of Auditor Training with Remote Auditing
When audit team members are being trained, the lead auditor must observe their auditing and provide constructive feedback. Ideally, the lead auditor will wait for a “teachable moment.” This is the moment immediately after the lead auditor-in-training makes a mistake. Telling an auditor-in-training what to do during an audit teaches the auditor little. However, if the auditor is allowed to make a mistake, such as forgetting to ask for an audit record, then the lead auditor can point out the error immediately afterward. Correcting the auditor can be as simple as adding a note in red font within the audit report in the same section where the auditor is currently typing. The auditor will see the comment and make the correction, but the auditee will not be aware of the error. This approach avoids any embarrassment to the auditor, and the auditor is more likely to remember the instruction as constructive feedback that will make them better.
Remote Auditing Can Be Easily Recorded
Auditors can learn from the constructive feedback provided by a lead auditor, but they can also learn by watching and listening to themselves if the remote audit is recorded. This is especially easy to accomplish for internal audits, but suppliers may also allow recording of certain process audits. Opening meetings, closing meetings, and common procedures such as incoming inspection usually do not include confidential information. Therefore, you should be able to obtain permission to record these portions of the audit. These recordings can be reviewed by the auditor to identify when poorly worded questions were used. Auditors-in-training can identify when they miss an opportunity to follow an audit trail, or an auditor may realize that they ask auditees certain closed-ended (i.e., yes/no) questions instead of open-ended questions that will help them gather more information from the auditee.
Audit Team Communication with Guides
In addition to the communication between the lead auditor and the audit team members, audit team members also need to communicate with their audit guides. Guides should be used to communicate messages throughout the company. For example, if the audit is behind or ahead of schedule, the guide can communicate adjustments in the timing of the agenda. If an audit team member requests records to be provided, the guide can communicate this request and make sure the records are waiting for the auditor when they return to the audit conference room. Guides also are responsible for helping the audit team navigate from one process area to another during the audit, and to make sure that the audit team observes all safety and gowning requirements during the audit. Finally, guides may also be asked to act as an observer and verify objective evidence collected by the auditor.
Shifting Role of a Guide During Remote Audits
During a remote audit, requests for records to be provided and communication of deviations from the agenda can easily be communicated by the auditor chat features in the video conference, instant messengers, or email. Therefore, you might think that a guide is unneeded. However, when audit team members request viewing another area of a facility during a remote audit, it may be necessary to provide live video images of the process areas. It isn’t easy to speak with the auditor and provide live video images. It may be dangerous to walk backward through your facility, carrying a selfie stick, and concentrating on your discussion with the auditor instead of where you are walking. Instead, the guide should focus on providing live video, and the process owner should be concentrating on providing a guided tour and answering the auditor’s questions. The guide may also be asked to record certain information in video or picture format as objective evidence.
Audit teams should practice using shared documents in Google Docs and Slack during the audit to facilitate real-time audit team communication. Google Docs enables everyone to write their audit notes directly into an audit report template to eliminate delays in the completion of the audit report. Using Google Docs also makes it possible for the lead auditor to observe the progress of the audit in real-time. Audit team communications of audit trails for team members to follow-up can be accomplished in real-time by just adding a note about the trail in the applicable section of the audit report. Finally, remote auditing can facilitate better training of auditors.