It’s time to embrace online benefits enrollment

As an HR leader, you’ve undoubtedly had to deal with a lot of process changes in the space of just a few months – in many cases, making more adjustments than other parts of your organization. With a larger percentage of the workforce continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future and open enrollment season quickly approaching, companies are having to get creative. Fortunately, this is one area where there’s already a blueprint to manage it: online benefits enrollment.

Virtual open enrollment isn’t a new idea. But if you are one of those companies still using paper, chances are that won’t be a viable option this November. Let’s take a look at how the enrollment process will have to change due to the pandemic, and how you can effectively pivot to a digital model or improve existing virtual benefits administration.

How has COVID-19 impacted the open enrollment process?

While it is possible that COVID-19 may be under more control by open enrollment season, one thing we learned early in 2020 is that nothing is certain. We also quickly figured out that we have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which is what a lot of HR leaders and benefits brokers are doing.

According to a 2020 BenefitsPRO survey of benefits brokers, plans for on-site benefits fairs or other large, in-person gatherings have been eliminated almost entirely. Companies where not all workers have access to technology are looking to do benefit sign-ups over the phone, with call centers being prepped to handle that traffic. HR teams within companies where technology access is more widespread are planning and implementing virtual open enrollment processes, or are looking at ways to bring greater efficiency and accuracy to existing online benefits operations.

White-haired man working from home, sitting on couch with laptop & devices on coffee tableA virtual open enrollment process will be HR’s best bet this season.

Another potential impact of COVID-19 is that insurance premiums are expected to increase at a greater percentage than previous years. This will impact companies and employees alike – and make brokers’ ability to negotiate better rates for various benefits plans even more important. It also may be a good time to talk with your broker about adding supplemental health plans, or non-insured benefit programs, that can help reduce costs for services not covered by standard insurance.

Not all of the changes the events of 2020 have forced on open enrollment are negative. A few of the positive impacts we have seen include a stronger focus on behavioral health, broad improvements to benefits-related communications and more customized enrollment process plans from brokers.

How can you make online benefits enrollment easier and more efficient?

Open enrollment sessions or meetings for employees are typically very information-heavy, which is necessary given health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits are not simple subjects! As such, it is important for HR leaders to strike a good balance between making sure employees understand everything and keeping them engaged.

This process can start before seminars even take place: Jellyvision recommends using email campaigns, infographics and other marketing tools to remind employees that enrollment is coming and to provide them with essential details about major plan changes or new offerings. In-depth guides, benefit terms glossaries and FAQ pages are another great way to help educate employees. Providing opportunities for employees to have one-on-one conversations in addition to group sessions is important as many employees are not comfortable asking questions in a group setting, or they may have specific questions based on their personal situations.

When planning your virtual enrollment conferences, try to offer multiple live sessions as well as an on-demand recording employees can watch at their convenience. Be enthusiastic about the process – this will help keep your employees focused and also get them excited about online enrollment if this will be their first experience. To maximize engagement, consider adding incentives or contests to your seminars. For example, ask questions throughout and giveaway small prizes to employees who answer them correctly. This is a great way to not only encourage participation but also create deeper connections among remote workers.

It may also be worthwhile to recreate the experience of a full-scale benefits fair online using diverse tactics: multiple short webinars for coverage topics big and small (anything from PPO basics to what constitutes a qualifying life event), interactive calculators that help project future copays and deductibles, downloadable resources and more. Just be sure to center live discussions in the virtual fair, as they have the greatest likelihood of making employees feel connected to the process.

For more tips on making the most of virtual enrollment, check out this short video from PeopleStrategy’s director of benefits, Elsa Glorioso:

Virtual Open Enrollment Tips