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January 12, 2021 | Benefits Management | Posted by USI

How to Effectively Communicate Open Enrollment in a Virtual World

While in some ways, employers have been making the move to virtual open enrollment for years, nothing ushered in a groundswell of digital communications like the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. As the traditional “open enrollment season” (August-November) edged ever closer without an apparent return to normalcy, businesses across all verticals were forced to assess their current practices and pivot to a meeting-less world.

USI, a top 5 employee benefits broker, understood its clients’ challenges and was able to provide virtual resources to nearly its entire book of business. Thanks to an ongoing commitment to innovation and technology, USI was, as Chairman and CEO Mike Sicard often said, “built for this.” Now that the dust has settled, here are the major takeaways from a new world.

People Are Ready

Despite a hesitation from some employers to move to a full digital experience, USI found that most employees were accepting of a virtual enrollment. This is good news, as it means companies can plan on capitalizing upon this year’s improvements to make lasting changes. The key is to make sure the solutions put in place provide meaningful and accessible resources for employees and their dependents.

As employers consider their strategy for ongoing virtual communications, they should look at the employee population and strive to put into place vehicles most appropriate for their demographics. For example, a younger, more tech-savvy population may prefer to receive short bursts of information via text. Employees doing double-duty as stay-at-home teachers may need the information available “on-demand,” as opposed to attending a scheduled meeting that conflicts with a busy schedule.

To determine their appetite for information, employers should consider surveying employees as soon as possible, while enrollment remains fresh in their minds. Survey results can help drive not just future enrollment communications, but ongoing benefit education throughout the year. From USI’s perspective, communication strategy is an ongoing conversation, that cyclically includes Open Enrollment. Surveys and data drive that strategy and its team of consultants puts into place the proper tools to help employees make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Put It In One Place

As previously mentioned, on-demand benefits presentations are key for busy employees who, if remote, may find themselves working non-traditional hours as they juggle work and home life. But beyond the immediacy of these presentations, the other benefit USI clients found most valuable was the ability to put all the information in one place.

Whether it be a recorded presentation with links to a benefit guide or benefits administration system, or whether it’s the benefits administration system itself, employees are looking for a one-stop shop. Once the employee begins their enrollment journey, having to leave a site, look for a file, download a video, etc. means the process is cutting into precious time. As much as possible, streamlining is key. Benefits administration systems that offer built in decision support can be especially valuable, as they encourage active and data-driven decision making in real-time.

Top Down Messaging Is Key

The message can be short or it can be a full town hall. The point is that employees feel protected and understand their benefits are meant to help keep them well both physically and mentally. Employers should take advantage of available channels to provide C-suite level messaging to their employees.

Email Has Limitations

Consider employees who are on leave but still benefits-eligible, employees with no company email addresses, spouses/decision makers and the large percentage of the population who are facing email fatigue. Dedicated call centers, chat features, text and traditional mail are all having a moment. Employers should keep in mind that emails with links to internal sites proved particularly frustrating for remote workers not connected to a network due to their remote situation.

Cloud-based benefits administration platforms can be overlooked as communication vehicles, but often provide robust hubs for housing educational pieces. Benefits mobile apps, such as the one USI provides its clients, can also act as a go-to resource, especially if they offer direct access to carriers or real-person help lines.

It should be noted that timelines for Open Enrollment communication shifted during the pandemic. The most successful campaigns took a more is more perspective and started at least six weeks prior to enrollment kickoff. Consider the difference in employees seated in one location being corralled into a breakroom for an enrollment meeting and those spread across a city or country trying to adjust to a new working environment. Repetitive messaging and reminders increase the odds of an employee not just seeing but comprehending the upcoming changes and how they may be affected.

In regards to benefits technology, USI’s HR Technology team recommends that if an employer is looking to implement a new platform, they start as far in advance of Open Enrollment as possible. This allows time for a proper implantation and testing before busy season. Providing a seamless enrollment experience for employees can relate to greater benefits confidence and decreased frustration. In a time when there is an increased focus on how to keep remote employees engaged and morale high, providing a positive technology experience can go a long way.

As we head into 2021, much remains unknown about the future of the workplace. What we can be certain of is that it is highly unlikely we will see a full return to the printed benefits packets of years’ past. Virtual enrollment reduced print and travel costs, created new levels of productivity and engagement and forced employers and brokers alike to think outside of the box. There are tools and solutions to reach all employees, regardless of location, demographic or budget. The question now is simply, how will you use them?

USI has served over 150,000 clients meeting their property & casualty, employee benefit, personal risk and retirement needs nationwide. They have more than 100 years of consulting and brokerage experience through our acquired agencies, with local offices dating back in their communities as far as the late 1800s. USI combines industry leading national capabilities delivered through longstanding, passionate and committed local service teams. USI stands for Understand, Service and Innovate. USI works to Understand the specific needs of our clients, to provide an unparalleled local Service experience, and to Innovate with cutting edge solutions so clients can continue to invest and grow. Contact your USI or Ascentis representative, or, to learn more. For Philadelphia area inquiries, contact Zac Knorr, VP of Employee Benefits with USI, at