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Top Tips: Payroll Business Continuity

I am ‘like a dog with a bone’ when it comes to Business Continuity plans, particularly in relation to HR and Payroll and the technology. Coronavirus has put our plans under the microscope and testing our plans to a degree which we never could have expected. In businesses where just one or two people are responsible for payroll this can place a heavy strain on the function if that person becomes ill or is unable to work remotely.

If you don’t have a business continuity plan in place then I share some of my top tips with you to make sure your business can continue to deliver payroll services:

1. Ensure you can work from home – and that your username is a priority

Following the Prime Ministers announcement on the 16th March encouraging those who could work from home to start working from home, we are seeing an increasing number of people logging on remotely. The levels of home working are unprecedented and so many of those working in Payroll or HR (along with every other department) are finding the remote working solutions are responding slowly or they are not able to log in at all due to the volume of traffic.

Ensure that your leadership and IT teams are aware of priority users – for example do they need to restrict usage at a certain point each day/week to ensure just those responsible for payroll can login and ensure processes are completed. Consider alternative methods too, such as whitelisting your home VPN temporarily or identifying a separate, secure method of connecting to your business systems.

Many business continuity plans involve home working for those who can – but rarely do businesses test the load strain which will be felt at the current time. Identify the risk and seek alternatives where possible.

2. Use the technology to do some of the leg work – including scheduled jobs

This may seem like a simple one, but check if your system does allow jobs to be scheduled regularly. For example:

  • Run the Gross to net/payroll calculations daily – taking on board any new timesheets or approved entries
  • Run regular BACS files
  • Run general ledger files
  • Run errors/checking files
  • Run FPS and EPS Submissions

Many systems allow you to schedule these kinds of jobs in advance. So, should the worst happen you could run a payroll and create a BACS file and FPS/EPS without the need to intervene other than to upload the files to the BACS system. This may seem extreme – but I would ask – if your system has this facility – why aren’t you using it anyway?

If your system doesn’t have scheduling capabilities – a simple recommendation is to set in your mail calendar the activities which need to be completed on each day – task by task. This ensures should you not be around someone would know what needs to be done and when.

3. Ensure your process notes are up to date and consider completing a screen recording of the process

Continuing from number 2 – ensure process notes you have are up to date and are adequately detailed to walk someone through the processes. We wouldn’t expect a layperson to be able to run and validate a full payroll with no payroll knowledge, but having someone able to run the mechanics of the payroll and produce the outputs is still a step ahead of nobody being paid at all.

There are many websites that offer free screen recording tools – consider running through a dummy payroll from end to end, recording your actions and explaining why you are taking those actions and ensure those videos are shard with those who might be responsible for completing this process should you not be around.

4. Ensure someone else has access

This might seem like a really obvious tip – but given our tight restrictions on HR and Payroll data it is conceivable that senior managers in the business functions of HR and Finance might not regularly have access to run the key processes – on the basis that for 99.9% of the time they would never consider doing so.

Check if those who would be responsible for running those processes actually have access to do so – especially if the person who runs payroll is also the person who maintains the user database.

5. Focus on the mandatory

This I call a minimum standards payroll. What do you need to do as a bare minimum to ensure people are paid:

  • Enter timesheets, hours and Expenses
  • Enter absences and calculate statutory payments and offsets (hopefully your system does this for you!)
  • Download Tax codes and Student Loan Notices
  • Add any joiners and remove any leavers
  • Calculate Payroll
  • Run reports for: BACS, Net Pay, Finance
  • Run FPS and EPS

6. Maximise Self Service – spread the load

Never is the case for Self Service more real. Allowing end users to access their own data, and managers to enter and approve changes will massively reduce the transactional workload of the payroll teams. If those functions are available but not yet enabled – consider enabling them with some robust process notes or training guides to ensure users are able to truly self serve.

The additional benefit of self serving with absences, holiday requests etc is that the business then also has access to that key information around who is at work and who is not expected at work e.g how many people are currently self isolating rather than going into the office for the next 2 weeks. This will allow for greater workforce planning and risk management. Consider enabling this function as a minimum.

7. Phone a friend

This is a serious point. Whether self isolating or if your company has enforced mandatory working at home – keep in touch with your colleagues, friends and family – the effects of isolation and loneliness are troubling to many people.

From a work perspective, keeping your colleagues informed about where you are with key processes, or even completing a shared work journal will allow those people to pick up where you left off – should the need arise.

Phase 3 are able to offer detailed guidance and support with implementing a business continuity plan for the short term or arranging temporary cover for payroll or HR Systems emergencies. For advice and support on payroll business continuity get in touch or view our Business Continuity Services page.

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