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What's in Your Payroll Continuity Plan?

By Paul Bartlett


Uncertain times and circumstances create unanticipated business interruptions. Within a few months, the COVID-19 outbreak traveled from China, across Europe, and infiltrated North America. Employers—and their workforces—became challenged in unprecedented ways. Working from home suddenly became the norm versus the exception, and employees’ health—physical and mental—has taken center stage.

Traditional “command and control” business models haven’t provided the agility required to coordinate across teams, business units, and geographies effectively. COVID-19 penetrated different regions at different rates. Whereas Asian operations began to spring back first, U.S. operations continue to scramble to help customers with the same attentiveness as before. Even worse, they might take a tone-deaf approach to the crisis and attempt to market and sell in a “business as usual” manner, when the times dictate anything but the usual.

It’s clear that a global pandemic sharpens priorities and prunes back the less critical activities. Right now, recruiting technologies are taking a back seat while wellness programs and employee assistance programs (EAPs) are increasing in usage. Finding a reliable way to communicate remotely to all employees rose meteorically, resulting in unparalleled usage of Wi-Fi—text messaging, chat, and online video calls. Most of all, the core ability to pay the global workforce on time and accurately has intensified as the best way to uphold a solid system of record and employee engagement.

If you didn’t shore up your payroll continuity plan pre-pandemic, it’s time to reprioritize and redefine. While historically global payroll may have been a back-office service delivery function, it’s even more important in times of crisis. Consider these fundamentals that are smart in good times, and vital under current conditions.

Build Your Dream Team

Central coordination of any payroll continuity plan starts with technology, followed by processes and people. A single cloud global payroll platform serves as the bedrock of such initiatives. And, counterintuitive as it might seem, this single-platform approach needs the support of local rapid response teams that follow a failover model (a method of protecting computer systems from failure in which standby equipment automatically takes over when the main system fails) to ensure payroll never misses a beat. Whether relying on employees or a network of valued partners who are up to speed and at the ready, this team can leverage your technology and established processes to problem-solve in the local markets.

COVID-19 is consuming our attention. Remember that crisis and continuity requirements can take many forms.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How simple and straightforward are our processes?
  • Are the business rules clearly communicated?
  • Do our employees know where to go for more information?
    • How flexible is your computing environment? How resilient (i.e., do your team members have encrypted laptops that enable them to conduct business anywhere)?
  • Have your people received adequate training? With the lull in normal business, perhaps this is the time to step up your learning initiatives.

Reduce Bottlenecks

In continuity planning, clarity generates accomplishment. Remember the popular 1999 movie “Office Space” that poked fun at layers and layers of bureaucracy, right down to which team member carried which pieces of paper down to the engineering department? When creating your continuity plan, look closely for the unexplainable processes often brushed off as “the way we’ve always done it.”

Align your resources quickly, calmly, and with purpose. If your team needs to know, “When our India operation is down, does our Singapore operation pick up the charge?” “If Sally in the U.S. headquarters isn’t available on Wednesdays at 4 p.m., who’s her next-in-line?” then this information needs to reside in an easily consumable FAQ that’s always available. Remember, making work easier was supposedly what the long-underway digital transformation was all about. Use this continuity planning to clean up messes and make things simpler.

Data Informs Responsiveness

When focusing on business growth, data analysis becomes perfunctory. Relegated to a quarterly cadence, reports receive a nod, and sometimes errors and overruns aren’t identified until the next quarter. Every good continuity plan starts with quality data–and as close to real-time analysis as possible. Having access to this type of data collection informs real-time next steps, which leads to our next tip.

Employees Appreciate Responsiveness

Responsiveness is the hallmark of an employer of choice. Employers need to deliver information to their employees about timely topics such as remote work policies or relaxed rules for work hours and paid time off. Many of these workforce updates are fed to employers by their global payroll partner so they can stay abreast of legislative changes such as the CARES Act in the U.S. Having a payroll continuity plan that enables you to deliver cogent updates across multiple platforms proactively is essential.

Continuous Connectedness

The business impact of COVID-19 reinforced how connected we are across the globe. The economy is global, our workforces are global, and our payroll responsibilities are global. The need to have a payroll continuity plan in place isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19; it’s a reality of how the world interoperates. Take time to define and centralize your payroll continuity program so that you can always carry on digitally, remotely, or physically.

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Paul Bartlett is the CEO of CloudPay, a global payroll and treasury services solution for multinational organizations. A global business expert, Bartlett has deep experience helping companies improve the efficiency and scalability of their operations using technology and services. As CloudPay's CEO, Bartlett spearheads corporate innovation and product development initiatives focused on automating client workflows and minimizing manual practices. He holds an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and an undergraduate degree from Princeton University.