As the world went remote in 2020, some in-person workplace traditions were put on pause. Others may never return. The big employee benefits fair may fall into the latter category for many organizations.
The truth is, few employees will miss their annual benefits fairs.
The main draw of a benefits fair to the typical employee is the free swag. Otherwise, the fairs have a reputation for being dull and overcrowded — and no one enjoys being on the receiving end of an insurance company rep’s hard sell.
Nevertheless, benefits fairs do perform crucial roles. They:
- Introduce new benefits.
- Reinforce the value of existing benefits.
- Instill a sense of urgency, reminding employees of impending enrollment deadlines.
- Provide a forum where employees can ask questions and offer feedback on their benefits.
So, while the traditional in-person benefits event may be gone for good, something equally valuable — but perhaps more streamlined, accessible, and digestible — must take its place. The economy-wide shift to remote work has provided an opportunity for human resources to reconfigure the benefits fair for the modern working landscape.
Here are three remote- and hybrid-friendly strategies for preserving the best qualities and critical functions of your annual benefits fair, while leaving the less appealing aspects in the pre-pandemic past:
1. Create an Online Employee Resource Center (a Benefits Microsite)
Benefits fairs are one-time annual events during which employees gain information by drifting from booth to booth, attempting to hear vendor presentations over the noise, and collecting easy-to-misplace pamphlets.
Online employee resource centers, on the other hand, are accessible whenever employees have distraction-free moments. There’s no need for employees to remember everything they learn during a benefits fair because they can refer to the resource center whenever they want.
The most effective employee resource centers are microsites that centralize benefits information within a single portal. Employees get in the habit of checking their resource centers year-round for benefits updates, educational videos on using their benefits, links to vendor portals, and enrollment calendars. This consistency makes online employee resource centers natural destinations for any and all activities related to benefits — including most of the functions of a benefits fair.
If you do have in-person events, benefits resource centers are also useful for hosting pre-recorded presentations and making them available on demand to new hires or anyone else looking for a benefits refresher.
2. Host ‘Rolling’ Panels
Just a few years ago, it would’ve been difficult to imagine replicating the energy of a large in-person benefits fair in a virtual environment. But, over the past two years, most organizations have perfected the art of hosting remote meetings. And most employees have grown accustomed to interacting with presenters online.
Your organization can put this hard-won expertise to good use by hosting “rolling” panels of benefits experts via your online meeting platform of choice. Instead of one large and overwhelming benefits fair, you can group experts by theme and offer your employees the flexible option of live or recorded presentations.
For example, one panel might consist of experts on family care. Another group can include representatives from your healthcare vendors. Yet another might focus on financial wellness.
Rolling panels allow your employees to choose the topics that interest them the most or about which they have questions. Breaking benefits information into several smaller, bite-sized events makes these online presentations more conducive to knowledge retention than large fairs.
3. Provide Interactive Benefits Quizzes
A persistent frustration among human resources professionals is that employees often misunderstand their benefits options and make less-than-optimal choices — for themselves or their employers. Benefits fairs try to solve this problem with hype and swag, but the message frequently gets lost among the hubbub.
Interactive quizzes are a fun and quick way to help your employees master complex benefits concepts (such as the meaning of HDHP), and, by doing so, prevent them from coming back to you repeatedly with the same questions.
Delivered digitally via decision-support tools, your employee resource center, or alongside video presentations, interactive quizzes can combat confusion among your employees and give them the confidence to choose less familiar benefits.
Benefits Fairs Will Never Be the Same
Even if the pandemic fully recedes, it’s unlikely that the large in-person benefits fair will come back in full force. Virtual options, such as the three discussed above, are proving to be more effective and preferred by employees and organizers over extravagant (and costly) gatherings. Your employees may grumble about losing the free mouse pads and water bottles, but ultimately, they’ll be better informed about their benefits and more satisfied with their choices.