In this article, Elaine Cromwell, Head of Business Support Services, reflects on what lockdown was like for our key workers in our Payroll Bureau.
How did life change for you and your team when lockdown was announced?
In the days prior to lockdown we were checking our contingency plans and rolling out additional hardware to ensure our staff could continue to work if we were required to close our offices completely. Soon after lockdown was announced however, the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals confirmed with government that payrollers were key workers and therefore permitted to travel to and work in offices if required. Since payroll is a very much a team effort and we needed access to specialist software and printers, the majority of our payroll team continued to work from our three offices in Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Glenrothes so in that respect, our working lives did not change as dramatically as those who were suddenly working from home, fulltime.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Coronavirus Job Retention scheme announcement on 20 March 2020, while a welcome one for employers and workers alike, effectively doubled our workload overnight. Perhaps it was just as well then, that during lockdown there was nowhere to go and nothing to do bar watch Netflix – our work-life balance certainly, was impacted by Coronavirus.
What was the most difficult challenge you faced during lockdown?
The speed at which the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) was rolled out was necessary but not without its challenges for payrollers. Prior to March 2020, very few people in the UK had ever heard of the word ‘furlough’ yet almost overnight, more than 9 million people in the UK were being supported by the government to stay at home and not work in order to protect the NHS and the vulnerable.
It was a full week before the government released initial guidance on how the scheme would work so there were a lot of calls to field in those first few days. We identified early on that clients would need our advice to help them understand what they needed to do to furlough their staff and access the scheme so we started a series of Job Retention Scheme updates which we emailed out to our payroll clients and uploaded to our Covid-19 Hub on our website, as soon as we had new information. We found that the guidance was being updated frequently (usually on a Friday evening!) which meant we needed to monitor the government guidance, digest and understand the information quickly so we could present it in a concise and hopefully easy to understand way.
Alongside this, we were setting up our internal procedures to apply the rules required to calculate furlough wages and prepare and submit our clients’ JRS grant claims. It involved long hours, working weekends, lots of socially distanced discussions and copious amounts of checking and cross-checking but we are proud that despite the challenges, throughout, we have managed to ensure every clients’ payroll was run, accurately and on time. On top of this, our department, supported by some of our accounts team, have calculated and submitted on behalf of our clients, JRS grants amounting to almost £9M.
Reflecting on the last few months, is there anything positive to come out of lockdown?
The challenges of lockdown and dealing with the Job Retention Scheme have really shown us how to pull together as a team. We had a strong payroll team already but lockdown as reinforced the importance of working and solving problems together. Being able to pull on the support and experience of our colleagues in other departments has strengthened relationships and demonstrated the value of the expertise we have within our firm. The experience has shown us how adaptable we can all be and how well our people, systems and processes work under pressure and can meet challenges head on.
What does the future hold for payrollers and payroll bureaux?
While no one at the moment can confidently predict what the next few months might hold, we remain positive in the knowledge that we are well placed to help and support our clients regardless of future challenges. The last few months in particular, have shown just how important the collective knowledge and experience of payrollers and payroll bureaux is to our clients and how payroll can and do, so much more than press buttons to produce payslips.
As organisations revaluate how and where they work, the role of the payroll bureau comes into its own. By choosing a reputable bureau, businesses can be confident that their employee data is secure and their payroll is being looked after by a team of professionals, experts in their field.