The payroll response in a challenging year

December 17, 2020 | 5 Mins David Daly

How global employers used the Payslip platform to deliver global payroll continuity in 2020 as a response COVID-19.

In an extraordinary year, global payroll was largely delivered remotely due to COVID-19 and Payslip has been helped a range of global employers respond to the crisis. We sat down with CCO, Mary Holland (CPP) to reflect on the issues arising in global payroll due to the pandemic and what Payslip has been doing to help clients with urgent requirements.

Q: What is your assessment of the impact the global pandemic has had in 2020: for the delivery of global payroll and the wider payroll landscape?

MH: The pandemic has presented a massive challenge and I have been hugely impressed with the response of the global payroll community. Once again, global payroll professionals have proven adaptable, resilient and very diligent in their determination to ensure that employees get paid on time and accurately.

Delivering global payroll during COVID-19 has helped to re-emphasize the business-critical nature of global payroll and the essential role this department has when it comes to employee morale. I was impressed by their ability to stay on top of complex international compliance requirements while moving from an office-based environment to remote delivery of global payroll. This is a lot more difficult than it looks and global payroll professionals have really gone the extra mile to make this happen.

It is also important to note that the global pandemic struck early this year while many countries were experiencing tax year ends, so in many ways, the timing could not have been worse for an already extremely busy global payroll function.

Another notable feature was the way in which payroll professionals immediately adapted to the use of new technology tools that they may have been previously unfamiliar with. Their general resilience, positive attitude, adaptability and commitment levels have been outstanding, and they have proven themselves to be essential workers.

Q: What have you learned from speaking with clients since the crisis began?

MH: I think the standout point has been the sheer scale of the business continuity measures needed to cope with the pandemic. Some of the better prepared organizations around the world have strong business continuity measures but quite simply, nobody expected to have to implement payroll continuity across 180 countries at the exact same time- this is something unprecedented and it may never happen again. No global response mechanism, no matter how well planned or funded is built to deploy at such a scale. Also, not all organizations prioritize business continuity, so they struggled with the reality of not having all their people around and the realization of just how dependent their business had become on reliable internet access.

Another topic that came up in regular conversation was the difficulties in getting some relatively standard tasks done when people are not around.  Relatively straightforward bank transfer processes proved more difficult than expected when the regular person who processed them was not in the office or available to continue to do so. There were also some unexpected problems, for example, in some countries the postal system ground to a complete stop meaning the delivery of physical pay slips became impossible.

Vendor reliability was also raised as an issue- unfortunately, some vendors suffered delivery failure and were unable to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. It also became clear that in some regions, the level of technology is simply not there to support the remote delivery of global payroll so a key learning is not to assume that a local ICP has the required level of technology in place to respond to a crisis.

Q: How has Payslip responded?

MH: Payslip responded quickly to some of the key issues that global payroll professionals spoke to us about. We very quickly implemented a Rapid Response Solution back in March which involved helping teams set up a process for the remote delivery of global payroll.

The objective of this solution was to minimize global payroll disruption during the Covid-19 crisis and equip teams quickly with technology tools that would help with things like:

  • Remote access to payroll data
  • Instant task switching across countries
  • Emergency new provider sourcing and on-boarding
  • Real-time costs analysis reporting

Aside from this continuity response measure, we were around to provide key support and advice around short and longer-term payroll solutions they could look at. We helped them meet key calendar deliverables and shared important information around ICP changes.

Our customers leaned on our knowledge and best practices as well as our platform and range of innovative technology tools. Reassurance is a big help, sometimes it is a simple case of being able to speak to a friendly voice on the end of the phone and hear about solutions that you can implement quickly. Payslip were happy to help regular and new clients adjust during this challenging period.

Q: Global payroll continuity is currently under threat, what course of action did you advise global employers to take in response?

MH: In terms of a continuity response, we advised global employers to focus on three specific areas:

  1. Standardization: Both data and workflows need to be standardized to ensure that global payroll is delivered effectively in the future. Working with non-standard processes simply adds to the workloads and pressure-there is an easier way and standardization will streamline processes so organizations need to begin a standardization project if they wish to see a smoother global payroll process in the future.
  2. Technology: They need to move away from legacy technology and onto a cloud based global platform that has the tools and capabilities to help global payroll professionals do their job in a faster and better way. Technology can help with remote access to files, data file secure exchanges, task switching, vendor management, calendar management, automation and a variety of other important things.
  3. People: There needs to be a focus on people and skill sets so that adequate coverage is in place and the team is properly resourced. Upskilling and cross training needs to happen to ensure the task switching across countries is seamless and effective. With the right people in the right roles, coupled with an innovative technology platform, organizations will then be on much firmer ground for global payroll continuity.

Q: Is there a specific feature of the Payslip platform that customers chose to use more?

MH: The focus is on delivery of global payroll in the here and now, so unsurprisingly, the calendar tool is quite popular as all eyes are on that crucial payroll due date. The calendar helps with planning and visibility when it comes to multi country payroll.

We have also seen an uptake in interest in some of our advanced reporting tools. This has been less of a surprise as we understand that leadership teams are very keen to get quick and detailed information around payroll cost analysis in individual countries. Leadership teams are already thinking about the future and thinking out loud around where to locate future employees, especially if they are likely to be remote workers. Global payroll data can help them make informed decisions around costs so there has been an increase in reporting requests at organizations. There is also a greater need for reporting around specific pay run elements such as tax credits.

We have also been fielding some questions around secure data exchange and privacy issues. Most of our clients are delivering global payroll remotely and this change in environment has led to some data security concerns. As a result, there has been more use of the secure file exchange facilities on our platform.

Q: Will COVID-19 change the way in which global payroll is delivered in 2021? What does the future of global payroll look like?

MH: I think COVID-19 will raise a couple of interesting questions, particularly around the future role of remote workers and the existence of the office. How long more will fully staffed offices be needed? Global payroll professionals have adapted reasonably well to delivering remotely- this may well continue for some time into the future until we can be certain of a safe return to office life.

There may be some interesting decisions made around the location of a payroll operations head office and the synchronization of working hours for better productivity- for example, when one time zone ends in one part of the world, global payroll processing may continue immediately in another time zone that is just coming online.

Multinational companies may also decide to hire in a different way and focus on different locations-this will impact global payroll as the number of employees in a particular region may increase or decrease, depending on decisions made.

Local country compliance obligations are likely to remain the same so this should be factored into all decision-making; subject matter expertise on a local level will always be required for efficient compliance.

I also think that technology will start to play a bigger role in global payroll – the reliance on technology in recent months has highlighted the merits of using advanced and innovative tools which can speed up payroll processing, reduce errors and lead to the production of better consolidated reporting. I can see investments being made in areas such as cloud platform integrations, standardization processes and automation technology.

Q: What message would you like to give to global employers for the new year?

MH: My message would be to focus on the positive but also look at ways to increase the level of support you are giving to your global payroll professionals. They have been doing an outstanding job, but they still need help.

Supply them with the technology tools they need to deliver global payroll in a remote environment -we don’t know how long this is going to last or when we might suddenly have to return to delivering in a remote environment-let’s make sure we are ready for whatever comes next.

Talk to your global payroll team more and encourage them to share some key learnings -this is an opportunity for global payroll professionals to highlight what they need and air their views on what can be done to improve things.

Do your due diligence, there are a lot of key learnings and takeaways from what has happened in 2020, and you have a duty of care and obligation to be prepared for the next big event, whatever that may be. Ask the right questions and learn about what worked and what did not during COVID-19.

Then begin the process of implementing the small steps that can make a difference, like moving towards a cloud environment in 2021 – you know now that you need to be in the cloud if there is a sudden shift back to remote working, so don’t wait around, get moving on this project.


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