Finding the Right Digital Open Enrollment Option

Lauryn Nosek | | Benefits Decision Support

digital open enrollment communicationsOver the last few years, many companies have been revising annual benefits enrollment to keep pace with the digital world. The pandemic, however, is forcing those who've been hesitant about migrating to a new enrollment model to confront the transition all at once. It's also thrown a curveball at those who've been planning for a more gradual change. Finding the right digital open enrollment option for your company doesn't have to be the nightmare you imagine. There are some key questions to ask that will help guide you to the right solution for your employees.

How Have You Been Communicating with Employees During the Pandemic So Far?

The first thing the pandemic forced companies to do was adjust to new internal communications structures. Most are using familiar tools but in new ways. There's been a greater reliance on video conferencing, instant messaging and other cloud-based services to make working from home over the long term more plausible. Which of these have your team found easiest and most effective?

video conferencing during pandemicIf you've been relying on video and screen-share communications to facilitate a real-time discussion, you may want to consider a virtual enrollment plan that includes presentations or Q&A sessions on those platforms. Just remember, live and active participation can lead to tangents and deviations from what you need to cover. It might be easier for employees to submit questions ahead of time. Then you can incorporate the answers into your benefits presentation or meeting. Pre-recording or producing a video highlighting the most important features and common questions can also be a great way to share information ahead of time. Then the questions you'll get during a virtual benefits meeting will be more targeted and productive.

For those who've been relying on email supplemented by instant messaging and group-chat platforms, a more static digital open enrollment communication may be a better fit. You can embed resources in an intranet or benefits portal. Provide communications that are easily shared with spouses and loved ones who'll be weighing in on any enrollment decisions. If workers are already used to reaching out with questions via chat, you can even include links to dedicated benefits discussions or Q&A channels.

What Structure Has Benefits Enrollment Taken in the Past?

Another factor to consider when building your digital open enrollment plan is how much to mimic your pre-pandemic benefits enrollment approach. Did you have team-based benefits enrollment meetings? Did you host a benefits fair with vendors on site to answer questions? Have you relied on printed benefits guides and posters around the workplace?

It may seem obvious for your digital open enrollment process to closely mimic your pre-pandemic approach. However, that can easily overwhelm employees unfamiliar with digital communications. If workers are used to an in-person benefit fair, trying to digitally recreate the experience might leave them confused trying to navigate between vendor pages. In those cases, a streamlined and straightforward communication may serve better. Rather than leave employees wandering, take them through options in a linear structure. A presentation video can accomplish this. Chaptering it allows workers to skip to their relevant topics without losing their way down a path of interconnected pages. Decision-support tools may be another, simpler technology for unfamiliar users to manage. Tools like PLANselect® only require a few minutes to answer simple questions and evaluate the best value options for the worker's specific needs.

mobile digital open enrollment communicationsThose who've used digital communications for enrollment before are probably better prepared to navigate their way between the vendor-specific pages of a virtual benefits fair. Familiarity with the tech is as important as the digital enrollment structure. Printed materials have been one area where the transition to digital solutions was already well under way. Companies may have had physical copies of benefits guides on hand for workers, but PDF copies make updating the materials easier, faster and cheaper. Now, providing hard copies will probably involve postage. The ability to compile and share these resources via email, intranets and other flexible distribution channels is vital.

What Benefits Are Changing and How Much?

On lists of mistakes employees make during annual enrollment, defaulting to the same plan every year shows up repeatedly. In many cases, it's because employees find navigating benefits and the jargon confusing. HR has been fighting to improve benefits education in the workforce for years. The pandemic has actually provided a unique opportunity for these education efforts to make a bigger-than-usual impact. Workers are expecting changes in response to the coronavirus.

While highlighting the benefits changes you've made because of COVID-19, try to provide background information that expands employee benefits knowledge. By relying on video, you can translate complicated explanations into more common, relatable terms. Video also means you won't be on the spot the way it can feel during in-person benefits meetings. With so much material to get through, it can feel like you're just parroting textbook definitions, especially when there isn't much time to process and respond to real-time questions. Deciding on video early gives you more time to craft your messaging so it includes education.

You can provide much of that same core benefits education even if you aren't making many plan changes. The pandemic is still impacting how people are using those benefits. Now is the time to highlight what's available and offer tips for making the most of them in these unfamiliar times. If you happen to have a passive enrollment this year, a virtual benefits fair may be a way to encourage engagement – a novel presentation of familiar resources with advice can draw a different kind of attention.

Do Your Research and Start Early

Whatever approach you choose to take, time is crucial to implementation. The sooner you're able to determine your way forward, the better. Transitioning to a digital open enrollment model can seem daunting. Once you make a decision, though, the way forward becomes clearer with tangible (manageable) steps.

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