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Global Payroll Business Continuity During a Crisis

By Fidelma McGuirk


COVID19_InsideA stark and unsettling new normal is taking place among businesses everywhere around the world. Unprecedented and largely unanticipated, there was simply no way of predicting that payroll business continuity plans would need to be put in place in more than 170 countries impacted by COVID-19. But payroll teams are resilient and responsive, and any measures they take right now to achieve payroll continuity will help to provide a strong foundation for effective future responses to global challenges impacting payroll. Renowned business strategist Peter Senge calls this “the learning organization,” defined as a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities. In situations of rapid change, only those who are flexible, adaptive, and productive will excel.


Questions for Right Now

Global payroll has been identified as an essential business deliverable in these unsettling times. The people element of payroll is under attack right now, with staff forced to stay at home and normal interactions severely restricted. Business continuity procedures need to be identified, accessed, and implemented immediately to support payroll processing.

Some immediate challenges present themselves now, and payroll teams at multinationals everywhere are likely to be facing the following issues and more:

  • Remote access to payroll data and procedural documentation

  • Visibility of team actions, specific workflows, and overall process

  • A payroll provider or in-country partner (ICP) unable to meet requirements and service level agreements

  • A need to provide additional and regular cost analysis reporting

Let’s take a closer look at some of these, along with what payroll teams can do to cope with the challenges and mitigate the risks. These things don’t mean you need to rip up the current playbook; they are more about making practical decisions that account for and respond to unusual current circumstances.

Be Remote Ready

Remote access to data and continuity procedures is crucial—the global nature of companies means that employees are spread across multiple countries and time zones. Payroll is often processed by local, regional, and centralized teams working in different offices across the world. A business priority should be ensuring remote access to data is made available in a simplified way—folder structures and communications should have clear workflows assigned to owners along with an agreed process for emergency or nonstandard payroll processing. Now is the right time to make use of cloud-based storage, as local on-premise storage cannot be accessed easily.

Identify Provider Continuity Processes

A global payroll team should ask its providers to provide detail, clarity, and reassurance around its internal business continuity procedures. Payroll is an ecosystem with multiple participants, and everybody needs to be capable of delivering. Now is the time to assess your providers’ business continuity measures and how aligned they are to yours.

You may need to prepare yourself for some potential problems such as payroll provider delivery failure, country shutdowns, and lack of access to essential data. A backup plan must be in place if incidents beyond your control require immediate and decisive action such as sourcing and quickly onboarding a replacement provider. This is a good time to check in with your provider network. Even if you don't yet have contracts with them, you may need them at some point during this current business crisis, so reaching out to them and learning more about their availability and their business continuity measures is a good practice. Put in place an agreed list of ICP vendor and emergency contacts.

Expect Reporting Demands to Increase

Everything about the current business crisis is unprecedented. You should expect requests for information and demands around reporting to also be unprecedented. You should also expect business leadership teams to ask for information on an almost daily basis—they will need regular information around the costs of payroll in order to make key strategic decisions needed to keep critical business functions running. Expect to receive additional reporting requests around key metrics such as country-specific payroll costs and headcount analysis. Reporting will need to be consolidated and comprehensive. It will also need to be made available outside of normal scheduling, so be prepared for advanced reporting requests that will put your payroll team under increasing pressure.

Lean on Technology

You do not have to undergo a major transformation, but you will have to look at how technology can become the main driver behind global payroll when the people element is restricted in what it can do due to extraordinary circumstances. The good news is that innovative and flexible technology can respond to many of the highlighted requirements and help ease the pressure on burdened payroll teams.

Technology can help you move from local, on-premise storage to cloud-based storage with full remote access so that there is no compromise when it comes to knowledge transfer. Cloud platforms can also help with overall visibility, as they offer dashboard features and other metrics that provide a clear view of end-to-end global payroll operations. Technology can also be used to standardize data and automate workflows to help deliver payroll in a faster, more efficient way. With the possibility of key personnel missing, technology that automates repeated tasks can make a genuine difference. Technology can introduce some flexibility and allow you to switch task ownerships across countries and time zones, which may be very helpful.

Payroll Continuity Checklist

Below are a few items that payroll teams across the world are looking for to ensure they are in a position to meet their payroll deadlines and be ready for the challenges an emergency situation such as COVID-19 will create. They are the following:

  • Look at cloud storage for remote data access

  • Request information on vendor/ICP continuity plans

  • Identify payroll vendor countries at risk

  • Document internal standard operating procedures

  • Create ICP emergency backup list to cover vendor delivery failure

  • Create a list of potential new reporting requests

  • Identify backup internal resources and subject matter experts

  • Identify key performance indicators for multi-country payroll health


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Fidelma McGuirk

Fidelma McGuirk is founder and CEO of automation technology company Payslip (, as well as the Global Payroll Management Institute’s (GPMI) 2020 Global Vision Award recipient. McGuirk has more than 20 years of experience scaling international business and leading multinational teams and global HR and IT functions. McGuirk identified the need for an automation and integration technology solution to help multinational employers standardize and centrally manage their global payroll.