Communication skills are always ranked among the most important skills for auditors, and working remotely really puts our communication skills to the test. Since “communicating effectively secures trust,” it’s important to be mindful of all aspects of our communication techniques, tools, and delivery. We can organize our main communication requirements into three groups: communication with the audit department, with our smaller engagement teams, and with the auditees.
Within the audit department, we are losing the daily interaction that comes with an office environment. Since the typical informal conversation that we generally have with coworkers is limited in a remote setting, schedule regular check-in sessions with your group. Depending on the size of your department, this could include everyone on the team, or it might need to be broken up into smaller teams. Remember that attending these sessions requires planning for the attendees as well, so it is best to schedule these in advance.
One useful tool for fostering open communication is virtual social gatherings. These social events can be short, like a virtual coffee break, slightly longer such as virtual happy hour, or maybe even a virtual lunch and learn. Keep in mind that if your team is spread across multiple time zones, it might be more challenging to schedule group lunches and happy hours. Also, if your team can all be together for a team lunch, there may be other family members in the home office with your colleague. If that is the case, keep it very informal.
Engagement Team Communication
Our audit work will still follow the same audit lifecycle regardless of where we work. For maintaining good communication, consider increasing the frequency of both informal and formal touch points. Informally, check in with your team each day to make sure they feel supported. Sending a quick note through instant message can often prompt the team to let you know about the work they are completing or issues they are managing.
All teams are different and have their own dynamics, so there is rarely a one size fits all solution for all groups. For example, some teams are fine with performing all management reviews through their audit management software. Others need to have a conversation to understand the manager’s intention and how to update the work. If your team is not used to working remotely, you may need to draw each person into the online meeting to break down their fears of speaking up in a remote setting.
Much like our audit team communication, our level of communication with our auditees will align with the audit process. Unlike internal communication, these should default to higher level of formality. Consider all aspect of these communications carefully, whether through email, phone, or virtual meeting. Instant messaging is rarely an appropriate medium for auditee communication since verbal methods ensure less misunderstanding. Typically, meetings with auditees should be held as virtual meetings with video.
For auditors, remote interviewing skills are key to a successful audit. The importance of using online meeting solutions with video capability cannot be stressed enough. Nonverbal communication, especially facial expression, is critical to understanding emotion. Trying to conduct an audit entirely through email and phone loses far too much of the interview experience.
Keep remote interviews to a reasonable length, usually 30-60 minutes. In the meeting invitation for the interview, include the link to your online meeting software, the meeting agenda, and establish any expectations, such as having cameras turned on for the meeting. Be respectful of the person’s time and end the meeting two-to-three minutes before the end of the session to allow time to get to the next meeting or task. Going right up to or past the end time intrudes on their next event and adds more stress to their day. Showing respect for their time is especially important when you may need to have several conversations with the interviewee.
Kick off, update, and closing meetings should be conducted using online meeting tools. For these meetings, the use of the video conference tools can come into full play and should be presented with the highest level of formality. In the meeting, you should log into the application ahead of the other attendees and begin with a cover slide in presentation software like PowerPoint. The title slide should include the title of the audit and the name of the meeting. The next slide should have the participant names, followed by an agenda slide. From there, you can choose to continue presenting in slide format, or you might switch to your report layout, such as in Word.
Begin the meeting with your camera on for the introduction portion of the presentation. You want to establish face-to-face contact at the beginning. Turn your camera off while presenting so as not to distract from the message, and then turn your camera back on for discussion after the presentation. This reestablishes the personal connection with the auditees and maintains the deeper understanding that comes with nonverbal communication.
While it may seem awkward at first, you will quickly settle into a good rhythm with virtual meetings. Until you are more comfortable with your tools, practice these transitions internally before meeting with auditees. Practicing the meeting process and transitions using slides and video internally a few times will help you work out the best options for your audience and yourself.
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