Skip to main content
Post-COVID payroll trends

2021 Post-COVID payroll trends and priorities in Singapore, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia

from  April 5, 2021 | 5 min read

2020 has been a year of immense change for human resources (HR) professionals across Southeast Asia. It was a year that challenged our concept of a “workplace,” with HR professionals leading the charge in defining both the present and future of the work environment.

How should HR professionals approach 2021? Let’s explore a few key HR trends and priorities in Southeast Asia.

Payroll compliance automation will rank higher on HR priority lists

The pandemic’s impact on the global economy was significant. In Singapore, it ushered in the worst economic recession in the country’s history, which resulted in layoffs, pay cuts, and tightening requirements for foreign workers. The same goes for Malaysia, which is still reeling from the 5.6% decline in its GDP from 2020.

In effect, Covid-19 put the regulatory landscape in a state of flux, where governments are constantly adding or revising compliance requirements in light of what is currently needed. It also made employees anxious and uncertain about the future of their jobs.

This means that HR managers need to be fast—they need to be aware of all the payroll and compliance changes as they take place, and they need to understand the implications of these changes on their operations. Otherwise, the consequences could be dire—they could fail to comply with regulations and pile in additional penalties or even delay salary releases, which would decrease the morale of already-stressed employees.  

Payroll technology can help HR managers do just that. Automated payroll enables managers to manage dynamic payroll based on in-country regulations that match an employee’s work location. Meanwhile, HR can focus on core work obligations, such as ensuring employee engagement and productivity in remote work environments.

Payroll technology could, for instance, allow companies to offer on-demand pay as employees continue to suffer financial stress. This means that employees will be able to receive their salaries before their scheduled payday. The best part is that it can adjust to both workplace and regulatory changes while minimizing disruption, so if your team decides it’s safe to go back to the office, no operational changes need to be made.

As the role of HR managers transforms with the times, they will need more time away from administrative tasks to focus on new responsibilities.

End-to-end digitalization will be key to productivity

Payroll automation can only be optimized if other aspects of the business are automated as well. Otherwise, bottlenecks can still occur. For example, payroll is highly connected to leave management. Leaves that are manually inputted could cause calculation errors in the system. In the context of a virtual environment where business and leisure intermingle, timekeeping needs to be more automated and flexible, making work more fluid.

With the number of new technologies available in the market, HR leaders are also automating different functions of the business from workforce management and career planning to talent acquisition and business intelligence. This indicates that they are not only digitalizing singular processes, but embracing digitalization as a company-wide business opportunity.

An end-to-end human resources management system is the best solution for managing the full spectrum of HR responsibilities. It saves HR managers the hassle of having to update and manage different software, and it provides a smoother and centralized administrative experience for employees, who may still be struggling to transition to a remote work environment.

On a strategic level, a centralized system provides HR managers with holistic, real-time data about their business processes. HR professionals benefit from gathering data across multiple cultures, regulatory environments, and compliance frameworks in order to inform better business decisions. Especially for businesses suffering from cash flow issues, this can better inform leaders of where to allocate resources, where to invest, and what markets they’re better poised to serve.

Cybersecurity will be a major concern

As SMEs hastily shifted to cloud-based solutions, security has become a top concern. Singapore, for instance, made the largest shift to remote work in Asia Pacific, with about six in 10 organizations experiencing at least a 25% increase in cyber threats since the pandemic started. In Malaysia, cybersecurity incidents rose 82.5% from the start of movement control orders in March to April 2020, with 82% of cases involving home users and others.

In fact, Malaysia experienced the largest data breach in history in 2020 when over 46 million mobile phone records appeared in underground web forums. The data contained customer addresses and SIM card information, and they were on sale for 1 bitcoin, or about US$6,500.

Most companies were not prepared with cybersecurity measures when they made the shift to remote work. Without the right countermeasures, a breach could happen at any moment.

HR managers, especially, handle a lot of sensitive employee data. With so much information floating through the internet, they must ensure that the data is always secured. A safe bet would be to use a cloud-based platform that hosts its data in trusted cloud service providers, like Google Cloud Platforms or Amazon Web Services.

Storing data in the cloud is almost certainly safer than storing it in a physical hard drive. Cloud storage servers are usually located in secure warehouses, and information on these servers is encrypted so it’s more difficult for cybercriminals to access. When choosing an HR solution, look for certifications that can verify your vendor’s security through protocols such as ISO9001 and ISO27001.  

Cyberthreats are not going away anytime soon. As the world becomes increasingly digital, cybercriminals will only become more creative. The solution is to select a reputable and secure cloud-based solution that can ensure the integrity of company data.

Empathy and employee experience remains a priority

The pandemic has ravaged the mental health of employees across the region. Citizens are not only concerned about their job security. They are also struggling with feelings of isolation, balancing work with familial duties, and coping with their personal struggles and losses. HR managers need to be more empathetic to employees’ mental wellbeing than ever before—and that’s going to be a challenge given remote setups.

HR managers will need to be proactive about gathering sentiments and understanding employees’ unique needs. You can offer more flexibility to your team by:

  • Offering more paid leaves

  • Providing more healthcare benefits

  • Allowing flexible schedules where employees can come in shifts

  • Keeping updated with team’s personal lives through designated communication channels

  • Engaging with the team through weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly online get-togethers

There’s nothing that can replace the physical interactions enjoyed back at an office, but HR managers can make the most of existing technology to make remote work that little bit easier for employees.

Focusing on the future

2020 was a year of immense change; 2021 is the year that companies get comfortable with the new normal. The best safeguards HR managers can place are automation solutions that can streamline workflows, encourage agility and strategic decision-making, and ensure cybersecurity.

If you’re looking for an end-to-end solution, Prosoft offers an integrated and easy-to-use cloud-based HRMS solution that can adapt to any situation. Get in touch with us today to figure out how to get through another year in the “new normal.”


Unit4 Prosoft

Unit4 Prosoft have been serving customers in Asia for 30 years and is trusted by over 1,000 businesses across the APAC region in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, construction, and professional services industries. Unit4 Prosoft HRMS has modules that support every aspect of your HRMS programs and allows you to manage people’s entire hire-to-retire cycle with a central control center and database. Your people get the flexibility and freedom to have what they need—how, when and where they need it.