During the COVID pandemic, many organizations tried virtual benefits fairs for the first time. Now that in-person gatherings are safe again, the question is, should you continue holding a virtual benefits fair? And if your organization has never held a virtual benefits fair, is there any reason to start now?
One of the pandemic’s most surprising side effects was that employers and employees discovered that there can be many advantages to virtual solutions — beyond simply quarantining people within personal breathing zones. For example, some companies saw a significant uptick in engagement and productivity when employees were freed from their daily commutes.
Virtual benefits fairs have several similar advantages. In some ways (as we’ll discuss below), a virtual benefits fair can better prepare employees to make their open enrollment decisions.
On the other hand, as with remote work, virtual is not always the answer. You may find that the advantages of bringing your employees together in person to learn about their benefits outweigh the convenience of virtual fairs.
To help you choose the most effective option for your company and your employees, we’ll compare the pros and cons of hosting a virtual benefits fair with a traditional in-person fair.
In-Person Benefits Fairs
Employers have been holding in-person benefits fairs for decades. Typically, representatives from the employer’s various benefits providers set up booths where they offer literature, answer questions, and hand out the always-popular free swag. Benefits fairs may also include scheduled presentations or workshops and opportunities for employees to meet one-on-one with HR representatives.
The Pros of In-Person Benefits Fairs
First and foremost, a benefits fair provides a dedicated time and place for employees to learn about new benefits and be reminded about the value of existing benefits. In-person benefits fairs are hard to miss and, thus, are a good way to ensure everyone in the workplace gets exposed to benefits information (provided they all work in the same location).
In-person benefits fairs also instill a sense of urgency. The very fact that your organization sets aside time and space for an in-person fair emphasizes the importance of choosing benefits before the enrollment deadline.
Lastly, benefits fairs pair well with other in-person benefits-related events, such as wellness screenings.
The Cons of In-Person Benefits Fairs
The larger and more spread out your organization, the more difficult it is to plan and coordinate an in-person benefits fair. You may need to hold fairs at multiple locations — plus, find a way to reach remote or hybrid workers. (Nearly half of remote-capable workers in the U.S. continue to work from home at least some of the time.)
In-person event planners must also contend with the reality that many — if not most — employees never enjoyed benefits fairs that much. In-person benefits fairs can feel simultaneously overwhelming and dull. Vendors can seem pushy (although no one complains about the free swag).
Perhaps the most significant drawback with in-person benefits fairs is that they are time-sensitive. Employees who miss the benefits fair — because they’re taking time off or on a work trip, for example — have no easy way to get all the information to make informed benefits decisions.
Virtual Benefits Fairs
The virtual benefits fairs that emerged during the pandemic took many forms. A SHRM article leading into the open enrollment season of 2020 proposes everything from replicating a physical conference space online — complete with lobbies and exhibit halls — to microsites offering webinars, FAQ sections, downloadable documents, chat with vendors and HR reps, and links to external information resources.
The Pros of Virtual Benefits Fairs
One of the best reasons to consider a virtual benefits fair is the one we just described: The virtual format offers a bevy of possibilities for connecting with employees. Holding a virtual benefits fair allows your organization to try new things.
If your in-person benefits fair is boring employees, a virtual benefits fair gives you countless options for spicing it up. For example, in a recent article, we suggested three innovative ways to engage employees virtually: an online employee resource center, rolling expert panels, and interactive benefits quizzes.
Virtual benefits fairs also have the advantages of accessibility and availability. A virtual benefits fair will never be kicked out of the room to make space for another event. In fact, a virtual benefits fair never really has to end.
A virtual benefits showcase can be a year-round employee resource, centralizing all the information employees need to understand their benefits, discover new options, and learn about the enrollment process.
Virtual benefits fairs are also perfect for reaching employees across multiple locations, including hybrid workers, remote workers, and even prospective employees. Employees can access benefits resources on their own schedule and wherever they may be. The best virtual benefits fair technology is mobile-friendly, meaning employees can research their benefits during their commutes, in bed, or from a vacation spot.
The Cons of Virtual Benefits Fairs
Let’s get this one out of the way first: To most of your employees, the only major drawback with a virtual benefits fair is less free swag. But it is debatable whether they will sincerely miss their annual infusion of pens, cheap hats, and thumb drives.
More seriously, a virtual benefits fair may lack the sense of urgency of an in-person event. However, many ways of promoting a virtual benefits fair convey an equal urgency (if not more).
Our open enrollment checklist for HR professionals covers several effective communications strategies, including snappy emails, SMS, and a steady drip of year-round messaging.
Finally, the greatest barrier to entry with a virtual benefits fair is the perceived effort and cost of launching one for the first time. You may feel your HR team lacks the technical know-how and time to pull a digital benefits showcase together from scratch.
Fortunately, solutions such as Flimp 360 don’t require starting from a blank slate. HR teams using Flimp 360s Virtual Benefits Showcase only need to spend a few hours from start to finish. The Flimp team helps craft the messaging, design the showcase, and launch the microsite. Flimp will even show you how to ask your benefits vendors for content.
Virtual Benefits Fairs Are Easier Than Ever
All the advantages of a virtual benefits fair are within reach. And, as we established in this article, the few drawbacks are easily overcome. Thanks to solutions such as Flimp 360’s Virtual Benefits Showcase, your team can create and launch a virtual benefits fair designed for maximum effectiveness with minimal effort.
If you’re not ready to give up your in-person event this open enrollment season, why not try both?