Editor’s Note: Eynat Guez is a leading expert in HR and payroll management with more than 20 years of experience in global workforce management. In 2016, Guez co-founded Papaya Global and became its CEO. The company recently became a unicorn with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Papaya is developing a global people management platform for all employment needs—from onboarding to payment—in more than 140 countries. It has more than 200 employees globally, grows 300% year-over-year, and raised more than $150 million from U.S. investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Insights Ventures, and Scale Ventures. She holds a BA from The Open University in Israel in Business Administration and International Affairs.
How is the role of the payroll professional changing as it pertains to a greater interaction with HR, data analysis, management, and strategic planning?
The global payroll manager is a player in strategic planning. As payroll automation is adopted by more companies, the data collected by payroll managers gets put to wider use across the company. The complexity associated with workforce location—different tax codes and labor laws to keep straight—unlocks hidden advantages for companies, and the payroll manager is right at the center of it.
Considering that until payday, global payroll managers are largely invisible to most of their colleagues, it can be stunning to discover just how much they do behind the scenes to advance their company’s interests. It’s become more apparent than ever before how global payroll professionals are playing a critical role in decision-making within an organization. We’re just at the very beginning, but it’s time more companies recognized the way they deliver global payroll can be a strategic asset.
What are the chronic challenges for companies that have, or are moving into, global expansion?
Visibility is a chronic challenge. It can be difficult for rapidly-growing companies that hire globally to track how many people the company employs and how much the company is paying in payroll costs. Part of the problem is that even companies that have begun to digitize through HRIS and other tools is that the data is still siloed. A solution like Papaya Global was created to address this problem by bringing all the tools together under a single pane of glass.
When it comes to global payroll, compliance is a non-stop challenge. Labor laws and tax codes are getting increasingly complex, especially in Europe. There are more data points than ever to consider on the average payroll. The laws also change all the time and will only stay that course. That means compliance will remain an ongoing task, not just a one-time challenge. Technology is transforming the way money moves across the globe, and policy is going to have to keep up. Those changes are naturally going to affect how we do payroll around the world.
What emerging trends do you see in meeting the payroll needs and compliance in payroll management for mobile employees?
The trend of remote work has taken global compliance challenges to a whole new level. The previous wave of global expansion usually involved companies opening new offices in targeted markets abroad. Payroll was hard because there were new elements to consider, like languages, cultures, and currencies. If the company hired a team of 10 employees, they would probably open one location at a time. With remote work, companies are hiring the best talent available without considering the location. That means they might hire 10 new employees in 10 different countries. That’s like trying to speak 10 different languages all at once and expecting to be clear to everyone. In fact, it’s more like speaking 30 different languages. It really can’t be done with manual tools. Even most payroll software isn’t equipped to handle the challenge.
What are the values and limits to emerging technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) in managing a global payroll?
For me, Papaya Global is a technology company first and foremost. I believe that we are building the technology infrastructure in the cloud that will set the standards for payroll, payments, and people management for years to come. Payroll managers are slow to change the way they do their jobs, and I think they have very good reasons for their attitude. It’s up to companies like Papaya Global to make it as easy as possible for them to transition to more payroll automation, more robotic process automation, more AI to save time and improve accuracy.
Of all the features our platform offers, I think I get the most feedback about our AI-powered automated compliance and accuracy engine. It’s practically impossible to measure how much time we save our clients in manual audits and improved accuracy. Once people try the new technology, there is no going back. It’s a one-way street into the future.
The limits, of course, are that people still play a vital role in the payroll operations. The best, most advanced solutions still need a human touch.
How can companies better leverage payroll data for strategic decision-making; how will payroll data emerge as a critical analytic business tool?
There is so much actionable business data to mine from payroll that it’s an absolute waste if companies are not reaping all the benefits. Companies with a global footprint need to know how much they are spending every month on all their overseas teams, whether they are working in offices or as distributed teams. They need to be able to see if costs are rising in a particular region, and if that spending could earn more return in a different location. When the pandemic hit, companies were looking to make cuts, but they often had no idea what to cut and what to keep because they didn’t have good internal data.
But there is even more to the data than stark business decisions. We’re finding more and more that investors, top talent, and potential partners want to know that companies are hiring fairly, paying equitably, and displaying social responsibility. Payroll has a wealth of data that can measure a company’s social health, such as gender equality, age distribution, and distribution of salaries. We recently unveiled a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) dashboard in our business intelligence (BI) platform. It lets companies track their progress and display their success, which is important for companies preparing for an initial public offering (IPO).
How did you get started in your career? What were some of your early career lessons?
I’ve been involved in workforce management and payroll for 20 years, and I can honestly say, everything I did led me directly to where I am today as co-founder and CEO of Papaya Global.
Papaya is the third company I’ve started. One of the others focused on global relocation, mostly in Africa and Asia. That’s where the seeds of Papaya Global began to be planted. I repeatedly saw companies that had difficulty managing global compliance. They would finally start to get a grip on how things needed to be done and then, of course, the laws would change.
At the same time, I was also struck by how technology was sweeping through every part of life, personal and corporate—with the lone exception of the payroll department at most companies. Even modern companies that genuinely embraced technology were still reluctant to advance from their legacy payroll systems.
Putting two and two together, we created Papaya Global to close the technology gap and create automated workflows for global payroll compliance.
How do you hire?
As a hypergrowth company, our team has obviously given a great deal of thought about what we’re looking for in our hiring process. In my experience, finding the people who have the right DNA, who contribute to the company culture we are trying to build, has tremendous importance. Some people have a different energy—not the wrong energy or bad energy, just different DNA from Papaya’s—and this can really set a team back. We need to find talented people and it’s a very competitive market out there these days. It still just comes down to finding the right DNA.
A huge part of that culture is transparency. That means one policy that applies to all. I’ve had really strong candidates make requests we couldn’t honor because we believe in one policy. If that means losing the candidate, it’s worth it because the whole company knows they are all equal. We win more in the end.
What’s the emotional experience of being in your position?
I always say that Papaya Global is my fourth child. I have three small children at home and all of them need my attention at various times, and my company is no different. I can’t put my children on hold, and I can’t put my company on hold either.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the disruption to business was at its height, I was genuinely concerned that the company was in real danger. If all our clients fired all their employees, there would be no payroll to process, globally or anywhere else. I employed one of my most reliable coping methods. I imagined the worst-case scenario I could think of and tried to embrace it like it was real. Then I was ready to face anything, especially if it was less threatening than the worst case. And in my experience, it almost always is.