18 May 2020

Working in times of Corona: how Teams keeps audits going

When Corona struck, many of us had to change the way we do our work. Quite a few Kiwa colleagues from all over the world are working from home these days. Auditors, inspectors and test engineers usually had (and have) to make more fundamental changes to be able to service our customers. Sometimes, software and some guts can make all the difference...

‘Here we were, at the beginning of March, when 'intelligent lockdown' came down on the Netherlands’, says Bert van Erkel, Inspection Manager and Lead Auditor at Appliances & Installations (A&I) from Kiwa Netherlands. He and his colleagues audit product certification schemes in the fields of water, gas and the industry, ranging from chemicals used to clean drinking water to piping systems, appendages and storage tanks.

‘On-site auditing became difficult, if not impossible, for my colleagues and me’, says Bert. Thus, remote auditing seemed like the only option left - provided both Kiwa and customers would be prepared and willing. Adds Bert: ‘We decided to go for it - but most of us had never done a remote audit before. My first thought was to contact our ICT department to ask whether we could use a tool like Skype for Business without compromising safety procedures and demands as prescribed by the RvA, the Dutch accreditation body.’

Self-teaching tool

‘My colleagues from ICT told me that we actually have an excellent tool for doing remote audits at Kiwa. Microsoft Teams is safe, secure and easy to use. So, we decided to start using it.’

‘My colleague Stef Mimpen offered some help in getting to know Teams, so I asked him to present it to my fellow auditors and took it upon myself to plan a session. In the meantime, I also got in touch with my Italian colleague Andrea Sartor at Kiwa Italy, where the Corona virus struck first. We set up an adequate structure for remote auditing together as the need was very high over there.’

Firing up Teams

Andrea, Bert and their colleagues proved to be self-teaching. ‘We just fired up the Teams app to see what it was capable of’, says Bert. ‘It actually explained itself. In just a few sessions among each other and through “learning by doing”, we got the hang of it. It took no more than two days before we felt confident enough to start a pilot. From there, colleagues learned from each other and we started doing real remote audits.’

From scepticism to appreciation

As the virus spread across the world, so did the practice of remote auditing. Scaling up wasn't much of a problem; colleagues offering similar services in China, Germany, Sweden and Belgium were easily hitched up. In the meantime, over 30 A&I colleagues are involved. Over 160 remote audits have now taken place through Teams all over the globe - and counting. ‘Of course, it's not the numbers that count - it's the fact that we can still service our customers’, comments Bert. ‘Obviously, everything becomes liquid under pressure; scepticism has given way to acceptation and appreciation, both for our auditors and for customers.’

Different approach

Remote auditing differs profoundly from on-site assessments: it requires a different preparation phase, a different interviewing technique, a different approach of the audit altogether. ‘For example, one can hear, feel, smell and experience a production location on-site and adjust the audit accordingly. When remote, documents play a much larger role and one then wants to uncover how procedures have been brought into practice. Preparation is even more important than it already was. We instruct our customers beforehand on what will happen and how they can prepare, and we make sure we take everything into account and the assessment program is sound.’

What also really helps, adds Bert, is a good business relationship. ‘Usually, an auditor or inspector and a customer have known each other for quite some time; there is mutual trust and a good understanding.’

Still, he has some more best practices to share. ‘As said, prepare. When the audit is there, make sure it takes place in a peaceful environment, especially when three or more participants are present - and let each other speak. Make sure the background doesn’t distract, so either sit in a tidy room or choose an appropriate Teams background. And for for everyone who still is a bit reluctant: don’t be. Ask a colleague if you can join an auditing session and see how it goes; you'll be surprised!’

Here to stay

Given so many examples of colleagues now auditing remotely, it's safe to say remote auditing is here to stay, even when Corona measures would become less stringent in the future. It can and will be an important addition to the services we offer at Kiwa. ‘Take an initial audit for example’, Bert explains. ‘All documentation aspects can be done remotely during a kind of pre-audit, which saves a lot of time on-site - an efficient combination. From what I hear, that's what appeals to our customers.’

Bert concludes: ‘It’s great to see the flexibility from both our customers and colleagues. A big thanks to all parties involved!’

Klaas Martin Vos from plastic pipes production company Dyka and Kiwa's Rutger Nieuwland (bottom right), during a remote audit performed by Rutger.