Making Benefits a Virtual Reality Recap: Taking Open Enrollment Online

This year has presented many unique challenges for employers and brokers, and now open enrollment serves as another hurdle, as organizations with a remote workforce have to move their in-person enrollment events online.

Along with the switch to online open enrollment, recent reports indicate that employees are increasingly paying closer attention to their benefits selection this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means employers and brokers need to do more to communicate benefits and address employee concerns, while adjusting to a virtual approach.

To offer some guidance, ConnectYourCare partnered with Winston Benefits to host a comprehensive webinar about successfully preparing a virtual open enrollment strategy. Nicole Williams, Senior Vice President with ConnectYourCare, along with Vice President of Client Success, Kyle Sheridan, and Katie Soehngen, Employer Solutions Support Manager from Winston Benefits, offered their expertise on the subject and provided best practices for short- and long-term online open enrollment strategies.

If you missed it, you can get the gist here with this blog, or watch the recording yourself to learn more in-depth tips and real-world examples.

Watch the webinar for more in-depth advice on virtual strategies, plus get answers to questions you may have!


Best Practices for Hosting a Virtual Open Enrollment Event

Employers and brokers will need to work together to develop virtual enrollment solutions for 2020 and beyond. This means organizations that want a successful open enrollment this year will need to fully embrace technology, implement a virtual engagement solution, turn print materials into digital resources, and provide decision-support tools and dedicated enrollment help.

With these things in mind, we created a list of best practices for planning a virtual open enrollment event that you can use this year and build on for the future! (We’ll tease several below, but be sure to download our Virtual Open Enrollment Checklist and watch this webinar to master the art of preparation!)


Check in with employees

Before you start planning for a successful open enrollment, you’ll want to understand what common benefits questions employees have to cater to their needs.

Points people usually want to know include:

  • What the benefits program does

  • Who qualifies for coverage

  • The value it provides

  • How much money will come out of each paycheck

  • Definitions of benefits basics: deductible, copay, premium; the differences between account types (HSA versus FSA, for example)

  • COBRA questions


Establish a baseline for successful measurement

It’s important to understand what enrollment looked like last year, so you can create benchmarks for measuring this year’s success with your virtual event. As you do this, keep in mind that success looks different for every company, depending on overall enrollment goals. You may want to encourage enrollment, while another company may be focused on giving employees a baseline understanding of benefits.

Depending on your organization’s goals, you can establish ways to measure the success of your open enrollment by looking at things like cost, engagement, and enrollment. And brokers can help clients understand how to scale more efficiently by using things like pre-packaged communication plans from providers.


Choose a platform that works for your team and your budget

Figure out what platform will fit your online open enrollment needs. The platform you choose depends on your goals and budget. It could be a robust hosting platform that mimics an actual open enrollment fair environment, or it could also mean getting more creative with platforms you already use, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or just email. And be sure to look to your brokers for support when making these decisions, because they are keyed into technology platforms they use and those of the providers they work with!

You should ask some questions to figure out what are your needs versus “nice-to-haves:”

  • How many attendees do you expect?

  • What is your main goal for open enrollment this year? Enrollment? Education?

  • Will you lean on vendors to host or will you host everything yourself?

  • Do you need one-on-one chat capabilities and call center support?

  • Do you have the budget for customization and gamification features?

  • What integrations with other platforms like Salesforce or email do you require?


Create a comprehensive communications plan

Reaching out to employees through multiple mediums, such as email, print, text, and even social channels can convey all pertinent information in a more digestible and visually appealing manner. And make sure you’re considering different versions of communications for different eligibility groups, like executives, full-time salary, and part-time employees, since they’ll need different content and different context.


Decide what resources you’re going to use for the fair

When your employees enter the fair environment, you’ll want to give them access to resource options that will educate them on their benefits. This may include live and on-demand webinars, short educational videos, downloadable PDFs, and one-on-one chats with HR or reps from the benefit providers. It’s best to use a variety of these options so employees can interact with the resources that best suit their learning styles. Additionally, keep in mind that some employees will be accessing these resources on their phone, so all materials should also be optimized for mobile.


Leverage communications from your existing benefits partners

Employers, ask your brokers, tech platform providers, and carrier partners what resources they can offer to relieve some of the workload while providing the most up-to-date and high-quality educational sources. Host their videos, or use their content in the benefits guides and overviews. Aggregating all that information from trusted sources will make it an easier project to take your open enrollment online.


Provide some real-life examples

Consider the product and your audience when choosing testimonials or examples to help illustrate how the benefit offers value. Use tools like savings calculators that help determine the most cost-effective solutions for employees, based on demographic info, history, and savings goals.

Tips for Employers: Driving Virtual Engagement

No matter your size or budget, come up with creative solutions to encourage engagement with this new approach to open enrollment. Most importantly, make sure that you’re communicating what is different from last year, so they know what requires their attention.

If things aren’t changing much, highlight those supplemental benefits like telehealth, wellness benefits, crisis benefits, emergency childcare, mental health resources—anything that can help with COVID-related issues.

And let’s face it—one of the best parts of a traditional open enrollment fair is the free stuff, the food, and the grab-and-go goodies participants get just for coming through. These freebies and goodies also drive engagement and participation. So, what can you offer employees virtually that encourages participation?

You can host a yoga, Pilates, Zumba, or fun fitness class for participants. You might host a virtual wine tasting with a sommelier or a beer and cheese paring. You could have a virtual painting event, or a host a trivia competition with prizes.

Giveaways for participating are never a bad idea, and you can still do these fun engagement activities online.

Tips for Brokers: Leverage Technology and Look Ahead

For brokers, there are other ways to help make a virtual enrollment strategy successful in the long-term for your clients. Continue to research and recommend technology that suits your clients’ needs. The right platforms, online tools, and virtual communications can increase the efficiency of operational processes around benefits administration, help employers with compliance, and aid with open enrollment, account administration, and more.

Be sure to check with your partners to see what tech options they have at their disposal. Employers often aren’t sure about what they need and what integrates with their systems, so this is a chance for you to show value and offer your clients something that will work for them.

After the event, get open enrollment results and analyze those as soon as possible, so you’re ready for next year. Host a meeting with clients to review how things went and prep for next year. Present things like enrollment results, call center stats, lessons learned, and more, so you’re ready to implement a better strategy going forward!

For the Long Run: Creating a Long-term Virtual Strategy

While remote work policies from the COVID-19 pandemic have sped up the transition to virtual open enrollment this year, think about a long-term strategy for virtual events in the future. Accessibility for employees, cost-effectiveness, and improved technology are just a few things that make virtual open enrollment fairs an appealing option going ahead. You could even try a hybrid virtual and traditional fair in the future.

Employers, in conclusion, these are some considerations for the long-term that can help you continue to expand your virtual scope for your business:

  • Invest in an online enrollment platform or benefit administration solution (as well as other digital resources)

  • Consult with your broker or third-party administrator to find the best solutions for your needs and budget

  • Consider integration of the platform with your payroll/HR solution

  • Look for built-in decision-making tools that are interactive or can be personalized

  • Consider the potential to offer benefits information in this format year-round

  • Find a vendor that may already offer a virtual open enrollment solution that you can utilize at no cost. Your broker may be able to assist with this.

  • You may want to invest in a virtual platform, particularly one that integrates with your benefits administration platform for the future

In addition to these tips, be sure that you stay informed about benefits changes, legislative updates, and new technology year-round, and that you offer ongoing education to employees about benefits, deadlines, and more.

Most importantly, make sure people know that your door is always open—virtually or otherwise—to answer questions about their benefits!

About the Author:
Diana Bauza is a content writer based in the Greater Philadelphia area. She writes about products and services in the health and technology industries, with the goal of empowering consumers with quality information to help them make decisions that best serve their needs.
By |2020-09-25T13:13:10-04:00September 25th, 2020|Brokers, Employer Posts, Open Enrollment|
Disclaimer: ConnectYourCare does not provide tax or legal advice. This information is not intended and should not be taken as tax or legal advice. Any tax or legal information in this notice is merely a summary of ConnectYourCare’s understanding and interpretation of some of the current tax regulations and is not exhaustive. You should consult your tax advisor or legal counsel for advice and information concerning your particular situation before making any decisions.

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