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Face-to-face monitoring: back to business as usual

Author: ICAEW

Published: 23 Jun 2021

ICAEW’s Quality Assurance Department (QAD) is resuming its onsite monitoring reviews. From 1 September, it will be back to business as usual but with all the Covid-secure precautions you’d expect to keep everyone healthy and safe.

When QAD moved to remote reviews at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, its primary goal was to continue to fulfil is regulatory and other duties safely and effectively. And those principles remain at the core of QAD’s approach as we all start to return to onsite working.

“We’re going back to pre-COVID-19 ways of working,” explains Dean Neaves, Senior Manager, QAD. “But it will be in a controlled way with the right processes and procedures in place to protect everyone’s health and wellbeing."

“We’ve consulted extensively with our QAD team in coming to this decision, listening to their views, and talking about what they feel comfortable with and how confident they are about going back onsite,” he emphasises. “We realise that people will be at different stages, and have different concerns and vulnerabilities, so it is critical that everyone has had a chance to contribute, and to agree the relevant procedures and precautions."

“We decided on the 1 September date after a lot of discussion and thought,” he adds. “It will be after the summer holidays, and the majority of adults will be expected to have received two vaccinations by then. Therefore, we would hope to be in a safer place.”

With health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda, QAD has developed a process and checklist that all its reviewers will go through with firms before going on a visit. The procedures have also been agreed with ICAEW’s health and safety committee. 

Safe for everyone

The checklist will go through the firm’s own Covid-specific risk assessment, whether this is written down or more informal, covering issues such as arrangements for social distancing (to the extent this remains appropriate), cleaning and ventilation, and hand washing and sanitising. It will also look at how the firm monitors staff and visitors to make sure it is keeping track of anyone who has had COVID-19 symptoms or needs to isolate.

“We will make sure our reviewer discusses everything well in advance, so that we’re comfortable going to their premises and the firm is comfortable having us onsite,” explains Neaves. “We will also discuss the logistics of the visit with the firm beforehand.” 

“We will do the usual self-declaration to say we haven’t got any symptoms,” he adds. Reviewers will take lateral flow tests where the firm requests this, and will also bring their own safety kits – including hand gel and tea and coffee – to limit the need to share facilities.

“Our focus is on protecting staff in QAD and our member firms,” says Neaves. “We’ve really thought about how to do this and how to make it safe for everyone. Even though restrictions may have eased significantly by September, we fully understand that firm’s may still want to apply certain measures in their premises.”

Communication and collaboration

Ongoing communication and consultation, both with internal staff and the firms adjusting back to onsite visits, is crucial. To make sure things run smoothly, QAD has already been trialling the process. “We’ve done a number of onsite visits in the last few weeks using the checklist and it’s been very well-received,” says Neaves. “We’re also confident our process and the checklist will stay relevant, whatever the developments in the next few months. It was developed collaboratively, taking into account best practice.”

He recognises that firms will be at different stages in their return to the office and their situations will vary, according to their size, premises, staff vulnerabilities and existing Covid arrangements. “If a firm, by 1 September, is not yet equipped to accommodate visitors, we can discuss this, and in some circumstances may still be able to do a remote visit if there is no other safe alternative,” he says.

Similarly, although most reviews will continue to be remote until 1 September, there is the possibility – at the discretion of the reviewers and the firm involved – to shift to onsite if everyone is comfortable with that and the necessary precautions are agreed.

We have all become accustomed to dealing with uncertainty in the past 18 months, and QAD recognises that government guidance may alter in response to latest COVID-19 developments. “If things change fundamentally by the autumn, we will obviously adapt and flex, as we have done in the past,” says Neaves. 

“But we know that face-to-face monitoring is a better option for the majority of our firms,” he stresses. “So we’re keen to get back to the norm, as long as we can make it safe for everyone and we have the right precautions in place.”  

If you have any questions about your firm’s review, please contact QADvisits@icaew.com.

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