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Virtual Open Enrollment Tips for Employers

Jennifer Siegel September 14, 2020

Successfully planning and executing open enrollment is never an easy task. It’s a pivotal time of year with many moving parts. The existence of COVID-19, however, has made this year’s open enrollment even more challenging. In 2020, HR leaders are finding themselves having to think about a lot of things differently, especially when it comes to employee communication, and open enrollment is no exception.

From transparently sharing plan changes to highlighting benefits that have greater utility in the pandemic, there’s a lot to cover. Furthermore, delivering it all in an easy-to-access multichannel manner—and occasionally thinking outside the box—is part of HR’s transformed role of 2020.

Here are some tips that employers should keep in mind for virtual open enrollment this year.

Examine the varying types of content to share

The broadest category of content is general housekeeping: messages about how and when to enroll, where to access information about the health and benefits plans, changes for the new plan year, and so on. Employers need to ensure that basic information is not overlooked while employees are (understandably so) digesting other messages that might be more personally relevant.

Nevertheless, those personally relevant messages should be highly prioritized so employees know of any details or updates that could affect their specific enrollment decisions. But that doesn’t mean the housekeeping content isn’t important—it just means HR teams need to ensure the competing categories are appropriately balanced for optimal engagement. This can be easily solved by a communications platform’s ability to close the loop, knowing who has engaged with what and who still needs the information.

Transparently communicating plan or benefits changes is necessary, too. Many employers are making tweaks to their medical plans this year, often impacting employee deductibles and premiums. This isn’t surprising, as more and more companies are challenged to contain costs nowadays—but these adjustments need to be clearly shared with employees so there are no unpleasant surprises (especially in a time when employees crave honest employer communication more than ever).

Finally, think about new or existing resources that stand out more during COVID-19 than in the pre-pandemic era, like an EAP, mental health programs, or telemedicine. Introducing voluntary benefits, too, can make more of an impact now as circumstances like childcare needs and financial challenges have evolved.

Leverage all the channels available

Knowing that in-person meetings and face-to-face conversations may not be feasible at this time, HR teams will want to make sure open enrollment messages are sent in multiple channels, avoiding a one-size fits all approach. This is exactly why an effective communications platform should be set up for multi-channel outreach year-round. Better yet, that platform should collect a primary communication preference at the individual level and then deploy messaging in that preferred method.

To cover the most ground, make the most of limited attention spans, and ensure nobody is missed, employers should consider using email, text messaging, centrally-located web portal content, and even paper mail to get their messages across (to reach those who don’t engage with their selected digital preference). After all, employees and covered dependents make up large, diverse populations and their needs are all unique.

An approach like this was necessary pre-pandemic, but the fact that most people are home now makes it even more crucial. Moreover, not all employees are the benefits decision-makers of their households, so information needs to reach the entire population (i.e., covered dependents). When a communications platform has the data to send this messaging to spouses or adult children in the household, in addition to employees, everybody’s in the loop and able to engage when necessary.

Let data drive the communication

While it’s important that every employee knows all about this year’s open enrollment offering, certain data points can be put to use to segment certain people into prime audiences for a particular benefits notification or update. For instance, those voluntary benefits mentioned earlier could apply strongly to parents but not so much to others. Messaging around open enrollment will be most effective when it’s been tailored to the unique needs of the individual employees it’s intending to serve.

Get creative

In this highly digital, COVID-19 era, there are many options at an employer’s disposal for open enrollment communication. In addition the channels mentioned above, HR leaders should think beyond them and consider ideas that their company possibly hasn’t done before:

  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Gamification
  • Live Q&A sessions
  • Virtual benefits fairs (this would require coordination with other vendors, but can be done!)

Be mindful of each medium’s limitations and effects on people, however. The abundance of virtual meetings has become mentally taxing, and Zoom fatigue is real, so employers may want to plan on keeping people no longer than 30 minutes at a time. Presentation decks can always be shared later for reference, so HR leaders shouldn’t feel pressured to cover every detail in one meeting. The data-driven, multi-channel outreach can guide people to those meetings as well as the resources shared afterwards.

Adapt now for an easier future

HR leaders who can execute all of this properly with the right platform are going to enjoy a huge advantage—when it comes to engagement, employee loyalty, and so much more. Plus, they shouldn’t underestimate how powerful these practices will be in the future, pandemic or not. The future of the workplace is transforming and this virtual, data-driven outreach will remain just as important.