By - May 28, 2020

How to Plan for a Virtual Benefits Open Enrollment

plan for virtual open enrollment

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, you should focus on engagement and orchestrate a personalized, on-demand, and virtual benefits open enrollment experience. More and more employers are embracing expanded work-from-home strategies they will employ long after offices open.  This makes interactions with employees even more challenging and will require you to determine what education is critical this year and to improve how you track engagement.

While some companies have been moving toward virtual open enrollments for a few years, this year is the true test of resources, planning, and execution due to the impact of COVID-19 on America’s worker. There are many unknowns around how workplaces will function this fall, with fears of a second surge of infections, as well as companies seriously reviewing their work-from-home strategies.

HR leaders have no time to wait for more information. They must plan now to transform how they engage with employees during open enrollment. We believe there is a unique opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and new understandings of employee psychology to make open enrollment support on demand, personalized, and better than before.

As a leader in the benefits engagement, communication, and compliance space, we’ve put together this framework to help benefits teams create and execute their virtual benefits open enrollment strategy:

  • Provide an on-demand HR experience via technology.
  • Execute a quality virtual benefits fair.
  • Invest in benefits decision support and educational tools.
  • Proactively personalize communications based on history.

Provide an on-demand HR experience via technology

Traditional open enrollments include office hours where employees can sit down with an HR specialist to walk through their options, or a call center to ask questions. However, employers can’t rely on in-person options any longer and this may result in an overwhelming number of phone calls. Current communication methods like benefits guides, intranet, webinars, and posters inform employees about their options, but don’t significantly reduce benefits calls. The problem with these formats is they can’t effectively mimic the compassionate, concise, and knowledgeable call to HR.

 We recommend:

  • Calendar tool: Invest in a calendaring tool that allows employees to book time slots with your HR staff. This has a few benefits: first, you control the volume of inquiries and spread them throughout the day. Second, employees will see a specific length of the session, allowing them to prioritize their questions and respect the time limit. Third, your HR staff will not feel overwhelmed and can book out time to complete other critical tasks.
  • 1:1 video meetings: Encourage 1:1 video meetings between employees and your on-staff HR team. Ask your vendors or third-party benefit coaches to conduct meetings through video chat.
  • Chatbots: Emerging technologies are entering the market to transform the HR phone call into a 24-7 online conversation through intelligent chatbots. Just as an HR employee, the chatbot informs and guides employees based on their personal situations. It asks careful questions and leads employees to the exact benefit program recommended for their situation, including a hand off to the vendor or a website. If the employee needs more information, the chatbot can quickly engage a benefits team member who can continue the conversation. Ensuring vendors are HIPAA-compliant and that you have confidentiality clauses with them is key, especially if sensitive topics are being discussed.

Execute a quality virtual benefits fair

With technology, you can continue to offer an engaging benefits fair and invite your vendors to help support the effort. Here are some critical considerations that require thoughtful planning:

  • Webinar technology: Invest in a large-format webinar technology that allows large numbers of employees to join at the same time. Many of your employees are much more comfortable with managing a web conference now, understanding muting etiquette. Encourage use of cameras to increase interaction.
  • Virtual OE session agenda: Create an extensive agenda of available sessions for your open enrollment, with a mixture of general overviews and specific vendor or benefits program sessions that employees can pick and choose to attend. Traditional in-person open enrollment meetings attempt to tackle the entire benefits ecosystem in a single 60-minute session. If you provide employees the choice to pick and choose which session to attend, satisfaction and attendance will exceed your expectations.
  • Leverage vendors: Invite your vendors and partners to participate. They may have specific content that’s relevant for your current situation and likely are happy to provide support during this time. Some webinar technology allows for separate discussion rooms, so you could have vendor breakout sessions for employees to learn more detailed questions or “visit” the different benefits vendors.

Invest in quality decision support and educational tools

Employees make better decisions about their benefits when they use a credible, interactive software powered by claims data that clearly and quickly guides them to a personalized recommendation. This year, with changes to health plans mandated by the government to cover COVID-19 related services, and other changes you may be making, being transparent and forthright with employees is critical. If you want to ensure employees are reviewing key content, make it mandatory and track their progress.

We recommend:

  • Benefits decision support: Use a comprehensive benefits decision support tool. When employees complete their enrollment through your HRIS, they only see the benefits that require enrollment or opt out. Your decision support software should help employees engage in all programs available to them as eligible employees, such as your onsite medical clinics, doctor referral programs, Explanation of Benefits (EOB) dispute resolution vendor, and diabetes management program. While employees won’t check a box for these programs in your enrollment platform, open enrollment is a critical time to help employees decide if they will engage in one of these programs in the future. Some decision support platforms, like Tango Decision Assist, offers proactive tips encouraging employees to take action based on their behavior. For example, if an employee is using a brand name drug, it would pop up a tip to try the generic to save them money.
  • Educational materials: With more employees at home, you’ll need to work harder to create communications that will pique their interest. Focus communication on key changes to your benefits or where you haven’t seen the engagement you’ve expected. Though digital will be your main communication channel, you should make sure to look at ways to make your education more impactful by delivering it in different formats like home mailers and SMS text messages. You can also look at using a learning management system (your training team might already be using one) to help you personalize content and track its usage.

Ensure you measure critical engagement metrics before, during, and after your open enrollment. For example, if you roll out a decision support tool, track overall usage of the software, geographic locations of users, recommended plans vs enrolled plans, and impact of the tool on your FSA/HSA contributions. Learn How and When to Calculate Benefits Decision Support ROI.

Proactively personalize communications based on history

Employees are expecting personalized communications that meet their needs rather than general content for everyone. Through careful planning, personalized communications are possible and can have significant impacts.

  • Determine your goal: First, define your goal. Is it to drive more traffic to specific benefits programs, such as obesity management or a second opinion vendor? Or are you seeing lower-than-normal rates of preventive services being performed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Use claims data: Next, use a third party to help you group employees. Analyzing claims data to determine trends in certain diagnosis categories and reviewing usage of your benefits programs can produce specific insights into employee behavior. In order to not appear invasive with your communications, we recommend you use large groupings of employees.
  • Send personalized communications: Then, craft a general communication template but leave space for a targeted message for that segment of employees. This allows you to add messaging announcing changes, enhancements, or just the existence of a benefits program that specifically relates to them. You can even invite them to a specific benefit fair session.

There’s still time to plan and execute a successful virtual benefits open enrollment

Employers are adjusting their strategy based on the quickly changing environment and with enough planning and a strong strategy, these changes can be implemented in time for this fall’s open enrollment season. There’s enough time to invest in a decision support tool, a webinar platform, scheduling software, and leveraging existing video chat systems.

You should also consider working with a third party like Tango Health to help run your virtual open enrollment strategy. We can assist with planning to execution, as well as provide our benefits decision support and benefits engagement technologies to shorten the ramp up time to open enrollment.

For more information on Tango Health’s Benefits Engagement Platform, please visit https://www.tangohealth.com/solutions/benefits-engagement/.

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