If you think it is impossible for payroll professionals to work remotely, think again! According to Ken Valuet, a payroll consultant who spoke at the American Payroll Association’s Virtual Congress & Expo 2020, “Not only can telecommuting work in the payroll world, it can allow for greater efficiency and flexibility.” And because payroll is usually a subgroup of a larger department within an organization, such as finance, HR, legal or shared services, he said that what works for other parts of an organization will generally work for payroll too.
Valuet debunked many common myths that may be holding payroll and other department managers back from implementing a workplace telecommuting plan. The following are just a few of them:
Myth #1: Telecommuters work less and are not as productive as on-site employees.
Valuet’s research reveals that, on average, telecommuters work longer hours and are more productive than on-site employees because they are better able to focus, have fewer distractions and have the ability to work in their personal comfort zones.
However, to keep employees motivated and accountable, a telecommuting plan should be in place that includes:
- Regular check-ins (i.e., by email, phone call, video and/or instant messaging);
- Required virtual meetings on a regular basis;
- A written telecommuting agreement or contract;
- Two-way communication about issues and problems;
- Accessible workflows and procedures that can or must be followed;
- Clear deadlines for deliverables;
- Set guidelines for responding to requests from both employers and employees;
- Set work schedules, availability times and flexibility standards;
- Online trainings to enable employees to further develop their skills; and
- Equal advancement opportunities for both remote and in-office employees.
Myth #2: Team spirit and professional bonding will suffer.
In truth, there are many ways employers can foster the creation of professional relationships and a feeling of belonging to keep team spirit and collaboration strong among remote employees. For example, employers can implement:
- Virtual skill and team-building events;
- Occasional virtual happy hours and “water cooler” conversations;
- Collaboration on work-related projects;
- Team recognition of high-quality work and achievements; and
- Required on-site days (either on a regular basis or for specific occasions or group trainings).
Myth #3: Potential security risks are too high and difficult to overcome.
Payroll managers may worry that sensitive payroll information, such as employees’ social security numbers, tax information and other personally identifiable information, may be breached by allowing payroll professionals who have access to such information to work from home or in other remote locations.
But studies Valuet examined show that most organizations feel that remote work security is not a major concern and that any issues are easy to solve. In fact, he discovered that 93% of managers that participated in an IRS telework pilot believe that data security is not an issue because most payroll systems are secured in a way that prevents such breaches.
To reduce the risk of potential security issues due to remote work arrangements, Valuet suggests that employers:
- Establish paperless payroll processing;
- Ensure employees have access to secure internet and network connections;
- Verify the security of web- or cloud-based payroll solutions, document sharing and storage options;
- Establish centralized backup servers;
- Create record retention and access guidelines for payroll department telecommuters;
- Train employees to recognize security violations and concerns; and
- Require employees to report possible security violations and concerns via a secure system.
Myth #4: It is too hard to track employees who work in multiple locations for tax purposes.
For employees whose work requires them not only to work remotely but also to move around to different locations (e.g., traveling sales reps, auditors), there are time clock applications that provide for mobile punching of the time clock and geo-sensing software. These applications can easily allow employees to report, and employers to track and monitor, work location changes. In addition, IP address tracking can also track the approximate location of remote workers.
Valuet suggests that payroll professionals can also mitigate other potential tax concerns, such as the establishment of tax nexus with other states, by:
- Learning about state and local nexus and/or telecommuting tax regulations, guidelines, administration and reporting;
- Establishing work location guidelines for telecommuters (i.e., they may only work from their homes); and
- Identifying tax breaks that benefit the organization (e.g., only permit telecommuting in states where the tax liability will be lower or easier to administer, such as those that have a reciprocity agreement with the employer’s state).
Myth #5: The costs of telecommuting exceed the benefits to the employer.
The potential cost savings and benefits to organizations whose employees telecommute can actually be significant, according to Valuet. For example, employers with a solid telecommuting plan usually reap:
- Lowered/eliminated costs of maintaining an established workplace (e.g., from real estate/rent, utilities and furniture);
- Reduced employee turnover and unemployment costs (e.g., employees with greater work-life balance and flexibility tend to be more satisfied with their jobs);
- Reduction in unscheduled absences and worker unavailability due to minor illnesses;
- Reduced costs of maintaining technology and system security requirements;
- Expansion of the potential talent pool beyond the limits of the employer’s local community; and
- Better business continuity during and after a disaster because alternative work methods and systems are already in place.
When considering a telecommuting plan, bear in mind that one size does not fit all organizations. It is important to think about your particular desired outcome when considering what your plan should include. And while an employer’s needs and requirements should be the primary consideration, work with your employees as well in order to develop flexible work options that benefit the organization as whole. Additionally, keeping the lines of communication open about what is and isn’t working once you do implement a plan will be vital to the plan’s ongoing success.