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Virtual Communications: Expert Tips for Open Enrollment

Web-based benefits meetings and resources are here to stay

How to enroll in a course.

During the annual open enrollment period for employee benefits, consider going with a multi-media approach, benefits experts advise.

Communications media, or "channels," include traditional print media, digital media, e-mail, websites, video, social media and mobile solutions, said Joshua Meyer, senior consultant at San Francisco-based benefits communications firm Segal Benz. "It's all about self-service, meeting the consumers' expectations, engaging them and improving their experience," he noted.

Digital vs. Traditional Media

The pandemic forced employers to shift to media they may not have used before, Meyer said. "If your participants work in a plant and you usually communicate using posters in the lunchroom or during in-person meetings, what happens when you can't use those media anymore?" he asked. "You need to reach your people where they are—and that may mean combining digital communications with more traditional tools."

Printed communications pieces are still effective at getting people's attention, he noted, "especially when they're getting hit with so many e-mails, texts and other messages." Mailing brochures to employees' homes is "a great way to get families and dependents involved in [benefits] decisions," Meyer continued. "[But] when you put your benefits information online, you're giving participants and families a single destination to act on their benefits or to find answers to their questions anywhere, anytime."

Video has the advantage of "taking complex concepts and distilling them into a simple visual format, and can be really entertaining," Meyer said. "You can take an eight- or 10-page brochure and turn it into a two-minute video instead—or do both, so your audience can choose the medium and the level of detail that they prefer."

Benefits videos don't have to be expensive. "People are really comfortable with cell phone videos," he pointed out. "They'll watch YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok and be perfectly happy with that style."

[Want to learn more about compensation and benefits? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

Mobile Messaging Takes Center Stage

"Creating compelling employee communications for virtual open enrollment during a pandemic [last year] proved to be critical for most employers," said Wayne Wall, CEO and founder of Hopkinton, Mass.-based Flimp Communications, developers of digital employee communication and engagement solutions.

A mobile-friendly approach, he noted, can include enrollment portals designed to work on cell phones and tablets, along with benefits videos and decision-support tools that are mobile-responsive.

Flimp's new Open Enrollment 2020: Case Study and Trends Report, which looked at last year's open enrollment experiences at nearly 200 employers, found:

  • Mobile-device views were up 14 percent from the prior year.
  • QR codes, scanned by mobile devices to access online tools and resources, were used in more than 10 percent of open enrollment campaigns.

"Mobile and QR codes are traditionally great ways to reach workforces that are not often in front of their computers, such as [in] retail, manufacturing, and construction," Wall noted. QR codes, for instance, when added to breakroom posters or printed mailers, can be tied to digital postcard campaigns that employees read on their phones.

He also advised using employee texting to improve open rates on the most critical benefits communications, such as approaching deadlines.

Live vs. Virtual Events

Employers' plans to return to large, in-person benefits meetings this year may be stymied by the delta variant of COVID-19, depending on whether the workforce operates in a region experiencing a high transmission rate. But that's not the only reason why employers would be mistaken to abandon many of the virtual tools they adopted last year. Instead, they can combine live and virtual benefits education, such as online benefit fairs, advised Ettore Toppi, senior consultant at Segal Benz.

He described five signs that virtual benefits events are here to stay:

  • WFH is A-OK. The work-from-home (WFH) culture has taken hold, and many employees aren't letting go of the easier commute and better work/life balance. "While more may attend live events by the end of the year, for right now the majority will participate from their homes or offices," Toppi noted.
  • Virtual events save money. Holding a virtual event eliminates the expense of bringing in employees now working out of state and paying their travel and accommodation costs.
  • Technology creates seamless experiences. Virtual benefit fairs can offer networking opportunities and breakout sessions that create an overall experience that rival in-person events and include employee engagement techniques such as live polling.
  • Virtual events are calendar-friendly. Online benefits sessions are much easier on personal and business schedules and, "in an age of remote learning and more flexible work-life balance, this also means fewer conflicts around domestic issues, like child or elder care," Toppi said. Those who can't attend in real time can catch the replay at their convenience.
  • Virtual space is everywhere at once. For organizations with multiple offices and worksites, virtual events provide a consistent experience no matter the work location.

"Although things are opening up, we're not out of the global pandemic woods just yet," Toppi said. "Rather than thinking of cyber-based events as a placeholder for in-person gatherings, think of the virtual event space as yet another resource in your employee communications toolbox."

Tips for Fresh Content

Scott Van Horn, CEO Tango Health, a software and services company focused on employer-sponsored health care, shared these ideas for benefits communications during a SHRM on-demand webcast:

▪ Create content around your employees' top questions and concerns.

▪ Evaluate your content—use the right words, simplify the content & add images.

▪ Update and organize your intranet to highlight top content and categories.

▪ Make someone responsible for content.

▪ Set up calendar reminders to scrub content—beginning of new plan year, middle of plan and before open enrollment.

▪ Share employee stories.

▪ Ask your vendors for their top content.

▪ Personalize content.

Related SHRM Articles:

Managing Open Enrollment for a Hybrid Workforce, SHRM Online, August 2021

Open Enrollment Planning Gets Under Way, SHRM Online, July 2021

[Visit SHRM's resource page on Open Enrollment.]


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