Is Remote Payroll Management Now The New Standard?

Jun 9, 2020  | Topic: Strategy

Running a payroll function, especially a global one, has never been straightforward - but most practitioners would agree that the recent pandemic has added considerably to the task. Not only have global payroll teams had to grapple with fast-moving legislative changes around the world, such as in-country furlough and temporary staff retention schemes, they’ve had to manage it all primarily from home. 

As we’ve all discovered in recent weeks, remote working comes with a myriad of challenges - communicating with team members, accessing technology, dealing with home-life distractions and protecting mental wellbeing to name just a few. While these challenges are common to everyone, they’re likely even harder-hitting for the likes of payroll teams, so used to an office-based working structure.

For any payroll professionals yearning for ‘office comforts’ though, there may be more challenging times ahead. Over the last few months, businesses across the globe have effectively taken part in a forced, yet eye-opening remote working experiment - and many are realizing the benefits. As attitudes soften to remote working, it seems highly likely that working routines and environments have been disrupted forever - and the impacts for payroll are extensive.

As well as having to adjust to becoming part of a remote workforce themselves, payroll teams should now prepare for the likelihood of serving a more global, widespread and distributed employee base going forward. Increased adoption of remote working opens up a world of possibility for organizations to tap into much more dispersed talent pools - which, while beneficial for the business, brings added complexity to already-disrupted payroll operations.

In this article, we’ll look further at the impacts of a changing work landscape for payroll, and identify how teams can prepare for the new normal:

Adapting to a changing landscape

One of the most obvious and direct impacts of remote working for payroll is the question of access to systems and data. Simply put, can practitioners access everything they need to run payroll effectively when they’re not in the office?

This is where it becomes clear that remote working and remote process management must be underpinned by a whole new level of centralization and provisioning - with data integrity and the ‘single version of the truth’ concept increasingly important when working as a distributed team. 

At the same time, businesses must also look to other ways of updating their systems and processes to fit with the new normal. In payroll, that might mean moving to digital payslips and employee self-service, updating systems to calculate furlough payments or instigating real-time pay to meet the demands of a more fluid workforce. These changes, while arguably enforced, can serve to benefit the business as a whole - both helping to support the HR team in their service delivery, and improving the employee experience for the wider workforce.

Supporting remote workers

As well as leveraging Cloud technology to provide access to key payroll data, organizations must also seek to identify collaboration tools and storage solutions that enable remote workers to remain efficient at home. There are hardware considerations too, such as the provision of laptops, and the establishment of an underlying IT infrastructure capable of powering a far-flung workforce.

Supporting remote workers goes far beyond the delivery of apposite technology though. Teams will need to be managed in whole new ways, and effort must be made to retain a team culture despite the many miles between members.

As discussed on our recent podcast, video conferencing calls have been adopted as the go-to method for maintaining contact and collaboration with co-workers - but keeping the calls ‘strictly business’ means the lighter-hearted elements of office life can be lost. For the good of employees’ mental health and wellbeing, other channels (such as Whatsapp groups) for ‘remote socializing’ should be explored too, and leaders should ensure they check on their team’s welfare, as well as their output.

Not everyone is cut out for the work-from-home life, and while many may excel amid the enhanced freedom, others may suffer in isolation. Supporting these individuals will be key to maintaining a thriving team.

Preparing for more global workforces

If remote working does indeed become the new standard, delivering payroll effectively from home is only part of the challenge that faces payroll teams. Less reliance on the office means less geographical restriction on recruitment - and suddenly even the smallest of businesses can ‘go global’. As a result, many payroll departments currently operating in a single country may soon face the heightened task of serving an international workforce. 

This brings a whole raft of considerations, and while most small to medium businesses will be entrenched in siege mentality right now, forward-thinking organizations will already be plotting their solutions in advance. Among the key questions are how to maintain compliance when every country has its own set of rules, regulations and reporting requirements - not just on tax and labor laws but also on things like data privacy? How can the barriers of language and of culture be effectively managed and overcome? And what about currency - how can payroll payments be delivered efficiently and cost-effectively across borders? See our recent blog on how Blockchain technology may hold the key.

Ideally, a balance must be struck between the expertise and local knowledge of regional payroll teams and the efficiency and integrity of centralized operations. Global payroll management software represents one of the most obvious ways to achieve it, consolidating payroll data from across territories to make it manageable from one single system - while providing access to the vendor’s regional expertise.

Dispersed workforces, centralized data

Remote working capabilities are nothing new, with a vast army of freelancers and gig-workers already testament to technology’s ability to sustain work life from home. But the COVID-19 pandemic makes its mainstream adoption increasingly likely for even the most traditionally office-focused functions - payroll chief among them.

As we head towards this new era of increasingly dispersed workforces though, the need for data centralization, provisioning and auditability rises in perfect parallel - essential to underpin a global payroll operation that isn’t just able to run from home, but run more effectively than ever.