White paper

Audit from anywhere: Remote audit best practices for a new era of audit teams

Now featuring best practices for managing remote audit teams

The transition to remote and hybrid work was once a necessity that grew out of local government lockdowns. Now, as businesses are redefining “normal” work arrangements, there is much evidence that remote and hybrid work is necessary under any circumstance. Simply put, remote work is here to stay, and companies that learn to leverage its benefits will thrive in the new hybrid era.

The tax and accounting profession was already ideally suited for remote and hybrid work, and there has never been a better time to lean into that reality. Of course, it is critical for firms to adopt only the best, most cost-effective practices to thrive in this new environment.

This white paper will explore best practices emerging from the ongoing transition away from in-office-only work.  It will highlight some of the technological solutions available for audit firms and some of the benefits they can offer beyond remote access.

The truth is you really can audit from anywhere. Let’s look at a few of the best ways to do so efficiently and effectively.

Establish a strong virtual infrastructure with the right tools

The foundations of any healthy hybrid work arrangement are the right tools, technology, and infrastructure. These include software, hardware, and human resources, all working in concert to deliver the right results for their clients and their firms. For established firms, this transition can be challenging; implementing new software and processes can be a daunting task. But, if done well, the benefits will positively impact every aspect of your firm.

For newer firms considering their next steps, these tools represent a great opportunity to build their team’s infrastructure from the ground up with these solutions already in mind. The more work you put into developing a contemporary hybrid workplace at inception, the stronger that new arrangement will be as you build upon it.

When planning the development of a comprehensive hybrid work environment, consider asking some of these questions to guide your decision making:

  • What technology will we need? Which devices will be needed to support that technology? 
  • What procedures are in place that will ensure appropriate permissions are obtained? 
  • Which processes, activities, and sites can be most effectively audited remotely? 
  • What privacy and security protocols are available? 
  • What is the availability of the staff and clients needed to make the process work smoothly? 

Remote auditing works best when everyone works together — even when they are physically apart. The right collaborative tools can make working remotely feel as smooth and seamless as traditional in-office work, and these tools are the backbone of the hybrid work model.

Whether you have one remote staffer or your entire team working from home, it’s essential to establish a strong infrastructure for business continuity and security first. By leveraging the right technology and having the proper internal protocols and security measures in place, you can better protect your firm and client data while also ensuring productive remote work.

For tax and accounting firms, cloud computing has become a critical component of doing business, enabling both employees and clients to collaborate seamlessly wherever they are. Cloud technology supports simple, safe file sharing and communication, and it can be game changing when it comes to ensuring that staff working from home have secure access to your firm’s core applications and real-time client data.

Additionally, centralized data management and real-time updates are crucial to ensure your staff stays in sync, regardless of where they are. Software applications hosted on the cloud operate exactly as if they were installed locally, except the solution provider handles maintenance, updates, and data backups. By having the provider manage all that, you and your staff are free to concentrate on what’s most important — your clients.

It is not enough, though, to simply have access to the tools. Once you have resolved to implement these tech solutions, you will want to be sure you get the full benefit from them. Let’s explore some ways you can do that below.

Best practices: Collaborate with the right tools

Once you have team members working remotely, it is necessary to establish some best practices around how their relationships with one another and management will work. There will be a learning curve for everyone involved, especially if part of the team chooses to work in the office full time.

One of the best ways you can help ensure that your team feels connected is to, well, connect them. There is tremendous value in maintaining a certain degree of workplace interconnectivity, and there are plenty of ways to do so.

Promote face-to-face contact

The first best practice of managing a virtual audit team is promoting person-to-person, face-to-face contact. Often, when we talk about collaboration tools, we forget that video conferencing is one of them. Many successful firms are choosing to use video conferencing whenever possible.

Consider the three components of communication outlined by Lynda Katz Wilner of Successfully Speaking: visual, vocal, and verbal. Visual is our body language, and it accounts for 55% of our communication. Vocal is our tone, our pace, and our pitch. Vocal accounts for 38% of communication. The last communication component is verbal — the actual words we speak — accounting for only 7% of our communication.

When communicating via email or another form of written communication, all we get are the words we see on the page. But how are those words being interpreted? If we don’t have a tool to facilitate face-to-face communication, we’re losing over half (55%) of what we’re communicating. When considering written communication, we are losing a whopping 93%.

Be aware of distance bias

The next best practice for managing a virtual audit team is to actively involve remote employees in all aspects of work, regardless of where they live. One notable bias that can hinder this engagement is distance bias. Distance bias occurs when the opinion of a person in the same room on a conference call carries more weight than someone on the phone — simply because the person is in the room.

Many times, distance bias is not intentional. But we must be aware of it and should act affirmatively to avoid it. Virtual audit teams need to make a conscious effort to involve remote employees in all aspects of their work to prevent remote team members from feeling that they are less a part of the team than those in the office.

The following are a few ways managers can ensure remote workers feel like part of the team.

  • Recognize remote team members for good work. Be intentional with all your feedback, both constructive and complimentary. But make a point of recognizing remote workers with the same frequency and care as those working in the office.
  • Talk to remote employees about career goals and personal growth. Do you regularly check in with your remote employees to discuss career development and personal growth? It can be easy to forget about these conversations when you don’t see them on a daily basis.
  • Provide non-meeting opportunities to connect as a team with remote employees. Again, make a conscious effort to connect with your remote employees in a social setting. For example, many companies host virtual trivia nights and happy hours to connect with remote employees.

Communication is a two-way street

Remember that communication goes both ways. If the first fundamental communication element is clarity, the second is active listening. Active listening means you’re making a conscious effort to be present so you truly receive the entire message being discussed.

Active listening requires your full attention. Refrain from multitasking. Video meetings tend to discourage multitasking and other distractions, so being on camera is always a good idea whenever possible. This technology allows you to make eye contact and gives the remote teammate the next best thing to an in-person experience.

Also, remember that you cannot talk and listen at the same time. Always allow anyone who is speaking to finish their statement before you respond. Don’t use the time the other person is talking to formulate your reply. Instead, clear your mind, focus on what they’re saying, and give them your full attention.

Flexible scheduling

Finally, embrace flexible scheduling. One benefit traditionally observed in public accounting is the flexibility it offers, especially concerning meeting clients’ needs and accommodating their schedules. Working remotely means embracing that flexibility while, at the same time, creating a plan to manage it.

Flexible hours, at least during the busiest part of the year, benefit your clients and your employees. Modern schedules don’t adhere to a strict “9 to 5” timeline, and staff — as well as clients — benefit from the added convenience. There might be people on your team who are better suited to working early in the morning or late at night. Depending on their schedules, these team members could be well positioned to serve clients in other time zones.

Best practices: Client service and communication

Properly handling client engagement is essential to any successful business relationship, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every client is different, and so is every engagement. The trick is to start with a client engagement model that works for your firm and finesse your approach to fit each client’s specific needs. Here are some best practices you can use as you begin to formulate your client engagement strategy.

Identify the client’s preferred communication methods

Many communication methods are available to engage clients, many of which we’ve already discussed, including in-person meetings, video conferencing, and phone conversations. While most of your clients would likely be comfortable with any of these, it is equally likely that each has a preferred communication method. Uncover that preference so you can fully accommodate it.

Schedule face-to-face touchpoints with the client’s key personnel

Many business relationships have been managed successfully over the phone, but there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. The same principles that apply to managing a remote auditing team also apply to managing your client relationships. While in-person communication may not be practical with clients who do not office locally, video conferencing should be part of the initial client engagement conversation. While not every interaction needs to be face to face, most clients would likely welcome a regularly scheduled in-person or video meeting.

Treat scheduled fieldwork as if the team is onsite

When doing fieldwork for a client, it is best to schedule it during their regular business hours. If you have clients that like to work from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm, you’ll want to plan your fieldwork during that time, if possible. Treat scheduled fieldwork as if you were onsite; everybody gets there at the same time and leaves at the same time.

Understand the new remote audit processes and outline clear expectations with the client

As you begin performing audits remotely, certain aspects of the work will fundamentally change. Gathering evidence, observing inventory, and other audit elements traditionally done in person will need to be addressed. It will also be a new experience for the client, so consider the changes they will experience and do your best to communicate with them ahead of time. You must do a thorough review of the entire process. Doing so will give you a clear understanding of how things will go, and the client will know what to expect. As always, keep those communication lines open. Communicate with your clients early and often to ensure a productive engagement and a favorable client experience.

Integrated AI-enabled audit applications deliver clients maximum value

Increasingly, we are seeing a move toward integrating artificial intelligence in day-to-day business transactions. There is seemingly no limit to the applications of this nascent technology, and remote auditing is no exception. Supported by integrated AI-powered audit applications, analytics software, and better testing applications, auditors can save time with automated processes by avoiding rote tasks and, instead, focusing on the specific needs of their clients. This way, more time is spent solving problems, innovating solutions, and delivering accurate results for clients.

In many instances, audit firms must access clients’ operational and financial information, sample populations, and field tests for outliers — and then make determinations based on that information. Traditionally, these elements were done by auditors working through their clients. Now, AI-driven data analytics allow auditors to reduce their reliance on client-brokered data exchanges and obtain this information directly through cloud-based services. 

Not only is this faster and more efficient, but it also gives auditors a chance to apply advanced data analytics to fraud prevention services and risk assessments. Then, auditors can use those same analytics to compare metrics against like businesses and identify areas they can improve upon in the future.

Myth-busting the hybrid work environment

Some managers and firms are still skeptical of the hybrid work environment, even after professionals continue to demonstrate they can do their work remotely. Before deploying best practices in the remote workspace, it is essential to understand the underlying nature of this arrangement first. Let’s take a closer look at some popular misconceptions about the hybrid work environment.

Myth #1: Remote employees are unproductive

Myth buster — research suggests the opposite. In fact, a Microsoft study found that nearly 90% of workers reported being productive at work in a remote or hybrid arrangement. Why? Fewer distractions and interruptions; less stress from no commute; minimal office politics; and a personalized, quiet environment. Furthermore, 85% of businesses confirmed that productivity increased in their company because of greater flexibility.

Myth #2: Remote employees are unengaged

Myth buster — the majority of remote workers are happier in their jobs and experience less stress. An Amerisleep study found that more than half of respondents (57%) were more likely than the average American to be satisfied with their job when they had the opportunity to work remotely. Plus, nearly 80% of respondents reported significantly less stress when working from home.

Myth #3: All remote employees are introverts

Myth-buster — people may assume all remote workers are introverts, but research shows flexible work appeals to a wide variety of professionals for different reasons. Successfully creating a work-from-home culture also requires firm leaders to trust employees’ ability to perform and execute work outside of the traditional office setting. The reality is that you can’t manage every minute of every day. Employees need a level of autonomy and trust that they will put in the hours to get their work done.

Best practices: Recruiting and retaining talent when it comes to remote audits and a remote work environment

For all its value and benefits, remote work can bring plenty of challenges. Firms looking to develop a holistic, sound work-from-home policy should seek to build one that is universal enough to accommodate their existing talent pool and any new hires that could join the team in the future. Recruiting new candidates into a remote work environment also comes with some unique challenges. Let’s look at some more best practices team leaders can use to ensure the right people are in the right places in their organization.

Encourage a healthy work-life balance

Establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance when working from home can be more challenging than you think. It’s easy to let work infringe on your off hours when your office is in your home. Technology like smartphones makes you easily accessible to coworkers and clients and likely leaves you feeling like you’re “always on.” As managers and employers, you must encourage a healthy work-life balance for your team, and as a team member, it is equally important you actively work toward that balance for yourself.

The pandemic exacerbated existing challenges around work-life balance, and research has shown a significant uptick in mental health challenges associated with the pandemic’s fallout. Some of those challenges have come directly from “psychological distress for workers worldwide” as they upend their normal work-life situations and shift to a remote work situation. (Front. Psychiatry, 16 March 2023, “Coping with burnout and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers’ mental health: A systematic review,” Sec. Public Mental Health, Volume 14 - 2023)

Be creative with who you hire

Another significant trend emerging in the audit space deals directly with the type of talent firms are hiring. Overcoming staffing challenges sometimes means being creative with how you find new employees, and in a remote work environment — where effective communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities are paramount — considering candidates with non-accounting or taxation backgrounds can be a strategic approach.

For example, Thomson Reuters research indicates that the traditional practice of only hiring those with accounting and CPA backgrounds has given way to more non-traditional approaches to staffing.

The AICPA 2023 Trends Report provides respondent expectations based on university responses for the 2020-21 academic year and firm responses for the 2021 calendar year.

These individuals often have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills ideally suited for auditing work. By broadening the search for talent beyond the confines of traditional tax and accounting backgrounds, firms can tap into a diverse pool of individuals who bring unique perspectives and expertise. If you are having difficulty finding qualified candidates, consider expanding the candidate pool to those outside traditional tax and accounting backgrounds.

By adopting these creative hiring practices, organizations can tap into a broader talent pool, bringing in individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets that align with the evolving needs of remote audits. Embracing non-traditional candidates can foster innovation, enhance problem-solving capabilities, and contribute to a dynamic and inclusive remote work environment.

Have a solid virtual onboarding and training plan in place

In today's remote work environment, virtual onboarding and training have become essential components for recruiting and retaining talent in the field of remote auditing. The successful integration of new hires into a remote work setting requires careful planning and execution to ensure a seamless transition and to foster a sense of belonging and engagement from the start.

To optimize the employee experience and facilitate a successful journey of talent acquisition and retention, organizations can follow the following best practices.

Pre-onboarding preparation

  • Establish effective communication and provide them with the necessary resources.
  • Ensure new hires have access to the required technology and software before their start date.
  • Develop a structured pre-boarding schedule that includes introductory video meetings with team members, managers, and key stakeholders.

Onboarding process

  • Conduct a virtual orientation session to familiarize new hires with the firm’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives.
  • Introduce them to the firm’s remote work culture, core values, and team dynamics.
  • Tailor training programs to meet the specific needs of remote auditors.
  • Facilitate opportunities for new hires to connect with their remote colleagues and build relationships.

Ongoing support

  • Establish dedicated communication channels, such as email, chat groups, or video conferencing, to address new hires' questions, concerns, and technical issues promptly.
  • Offer ongoing professional development opportunities, such as webinars, virtual conferences, or certification programs, to enhance the skills and knowledge of remote auditors.


When building a ground-up hybrid work infrastructure, flexibility and adaptability are the names of the game. Like any economic consideration, adjusting to environmental changes is critical to achieving success and sustaining growth.

In the audit space, cloud technology has become the go-to solution for firms looking toward the future of the industry. It improves efficiency and increases collaboration, providing quicker, more secure data access. By leveraging cloud-enabled technology, auditors can perform their work more effectively and efficiently while also providing a higher level of service to their clients.

Remote audit engagements offer unprecedented flexibility for both clients and firms. While firms may need to establish some best practices around communication, processes, and logistics for remote audit teams, there is no doubt about the benefit to both them and their clients.

The success of any remote audit team rests on building a collaboration toolbox full of software tools and strategies to ensure clear communication with team members and clients, ensuring that all involved can send and receive the necessary information to complete an audit accurately.

To explore some cloud-driven solutions, check out the Thomson Reuters Cloud Audit Suite. There, you will find industry-leading solutions and a comprehensive cache of services to ensure remote work gets done more efficiently and accurately than ever before.

Cloud Audit Suite

Audit technology enabling real-time digital collaboration between audit teams and clients