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Mind of Jacka: Get Off My Lawn! 

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 24, 2023

For a great portion of my life, I’ve prided myself on my flexibility — my willingness to listen and adapt to changing ideas. Recently, I’ve bent over backwards in my attempts to change with the times. I do not fully understand the way changes have impacted how people work, and I’m not sure how I would adapt. 

I’m also not sure the current way will work, and I see a lot of issues that appear to be unaddressed or unaddressable. However, again, bending over backwards, I’ve made the assumption that the people knee-deep in the real world have a better picture of how to accomplish success than I do — that the work of internal audit can be done in this new way. I’ve done my best. I’ve tried to keep an open mind.

Well, that’s it. No more. I’m tired of trying to accept and move on. I can’t keep it inside any longer. I’ve had enough. I don’t agree. The gloves are off. You’re wrong. Get off my lawn!

Remote auditing does not work.

I know there are new technologies. I know there are new cultures. I know there are different ways of working. I know things aren’t the same as when I was working. But I also know remote auditing is not as effective as bodies in the seats, seats in the office, and offices in the building — human beings physically interacting with other human beings.

You young whippersnappers who believe audit work is not hindered, and may even be enhanced, by the current craze of working remotely are not only wrong, but wrong to a degree that diminishes your reputation, our profession, and the basic ability for internal audit to get the work done correctly.

“Get off my lawn!”

I’ve heard the arguments. “We can get more work done while at home.” “There is no reason to be in the office every day.” “I have a better work-life balance.” “I don’t have to worry about politics.” “Nothing happens in the office, anyway.”

Poppycock. (Note to the editors of this blog: See! I can edit myself.)

Before I lay out my reasons why you are absolutely, positively, unequivocally wrong, let me tell you that I was once there myself.

In the last few years of my tenure at Farmers Insurance, we were doing remote work. For reasons that seemed correct at the time, our auditors were scattered throughout the U.S. This meant the auditors often had to perform reviews, interviews, and tests working with clients who were located throughout the country. The value of traveling to those locations was not worth the exorbitant costs. So, that meant phone calls, emails, and conference calls. (This was pre-Zoom, so no video conferencing)

The auditors achieved various degrees of success. That variance probably had more to do with each individual’s skills than how we were forced to do the audits. However, no matter how effective, the auditors began losing touch with the human element of their work. The clients were no longer people; they were voices on the phone, sentences in an email, and documents sent through a computer.

(And don’t even get me started on the possibilities for being catfished. Look it up.)

The ability to read the person being interviewed was greatly impaired. The ability to get to know the person was greatly impaired. The ability to use the power of relationships was greatly impaired. And the ability to use the qualities, traits, and soft skills that make a successful internal auditor were impaired.

We accepted the associated risk in order to get the work done. And the camel got its nose in the tent.

And now, here our profession sits, the camel having pushed us out of the tent. Because we have come to accept that working remotely is not just an option, but the right and effective way to be the model of a modern internal auditor.

And that is wrong!

Get off my lawn!

For all the arguments raised in support of working from home, none of them hold a candle against the main reason for going into the office to work — human interaction and relationship building.

You whine that no one comes into the office anymore. Well, yes, they do. It may not be as many as before, but people are still in there. And each one of those people is an opportunity to build a relationship, learn how they work within the organization, and possibly (probably) learn a little more about the risks the organization is facing.

You argue that you are still having interactions through video conferences. You are right; you are meeting with people. But you are not effectively interacting. How much time is spent in those conferences getting to know the people on the other end? How much time is spent on the incidental conversations that lead to new discoveries about a department; new understandings of the risks involved; and greater awareness of how processes, departments, and the organization are changing?

And, while we’re at it, let’s talk about meetings. Some argue that remote work results in fewer useless meetings. My experience has been that, even working remotely, we were still able to have more than too many of the waste-of-time, why-are-we-here, how-do-I-get-that-hour-back meetings we all dread. A few days prior to one of our monthly teleconferences, the meeting leader called a group of us together and asked, “What do we have to talk about?” That was a meeting not worth having. And tell me you aren’t still sitting in such meetings, wondering what is being said and why you are there.

And, in fact, remote auditing promotes disengagement from meetings. It is much easier to tune out when you are in a different location. Proof on that one? How many people actually turn on their screens during every video conference? A blank screen equals disengagement. (Do you have a requirement that everyone has their camera on? You really think allowing blank screens fosters participation, understanding, and just plain listening?)

And let’s get to the department level. How do you share information among internal auditors? Remote work requires a very structured approach to sharing. A meeting, an email, an instant message. None of this compares to the serendipity that occurs when everyone in an office — even within those nasty cubicle things — is able to discuss anything and everything that might come up.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself this question: Do you learn as much working from home as you do working in the office? Do you see the difference between making a few phone calls, sitting in on a few video conferences, and burying your head in your home office compared with being in the office to chat with your clients in a non-audit fashion? What about getting to know the human beings who are walking the halls and stumbling across those serendipitous moments when you learn more from one human being’s words than you ever could have in an email, a phone call, or a scheduled Zoom meeting?

Allow me to repeat myself: Remote work does not work!

Yeah, I’m like the old man screaming, “Get off my lawn!”

But I am also the old man screaming, “Get back in the office!”

And until someone can show me that I am wrong — until someone can prove to me that remote auditing is just as effective as having a physical presence — then I’ll keep yelling.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.