By: Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark
Since the onset of COVID-19, cities, counties, and states have moved to implement new public health practices, which has resulted in an environment where business as we know it has been turned upside down. Here at GuideSpark, we’ve been forced to stop and start many parts of our own business as we’ve wrestled with challenges imposed by the pandemic. And now, we’re looking at a future where many of these changes will most likely become permanent. While no two organizations are alike, two consistent trends are clearly emerging across the business landscape:
- Acceleration of digital transformation
- A move to remote, distributed organizations
Many companies have rolled out new technology to better support remote workers. In some cases, these organizations originally had longer plans in place to make these technology adjustments, but soon realized they needed to condense their plans and launch new systems in a matter of days, not months. And, because organizations find themselves with a newly dispersed workforce, HR is now forced to revisit traditional programs, like open enrollment, and rethink how they will launch these plans for their workforce.
Typically, open enrollment is a huge annual event – and for years it has evolved slowly, moving from a mostly print and mailing process to become more digital as technology has advanced. Each Fall, open enrollment announcements and activities begin, but this year HR will need to make some drastic changes to accommodate such a large percentage of the workforce – up to 80% of employees for many organizations – operating from home. This means in-person events, like OE seminars, health fairs, or one-on-one meetings with HR, will all need to become virtual. Though we’re in the midst of a pandemic, we can use this new environment as an opportunity to reimagine the OE strategy – and make it better than ever before.
Now is the time to re-evaluate the efficacy of your OE outreach, analyze what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t, and come up with a newly strategized OE experience for employees. Don’t just take your existing in-person activities and copy them into an online framework. While there are similarities, sitting through a one-hour in-person OE session is a very different experience when it becomes a one-hour video call; Zoom fatigue is real! By rethinking the OE experience, and leveraging the power of digital content, we can engage employees in new, effective ways.
How to Reimagine a Virtual Open Enrollment Experience
Rethink Benefits Content
Think about the content employees receive to understand their benefits information. Is it a long, text-heavy benefits guide? Now, consider the content employees engage within other aspects of their lives – social media, consumer marketing, and more. Employees have come to expect engaging, bite-sized content, just like what they see in an online environment. It follows that a similar strategy will grab their attention, even in a workplace context – compile your OE information in the same small, eye-catching, blurbs as they see on external websites. If online presentations or webinars are an important part of your open enrollment lineup, keep them short and to the point, and make them as interactive as possible.
One of our GuideSpark customers recently decided to hold a health benefits fair for employees by converting it into an online experience, including content from each of their benefits vendors. They prepared employees for the experience with advance messaging about dates and times, and a sleek set of short-form content and 10-minute vendor presentations.
Rethink Communication Channels
For a successful open enrollment season, getting the word out to the workforce is critical. Make information available across multiple channels, starting with the digital ones: email, SMS, Microsoft Teams, Slack, intranet portals, and core HR systems. However, amid all of this communication, keep in mind that employees are constantly inundated with emails – enterprises in the US generate 5.4M strategic corporate messages per year, and employees find 40% of those to be unimportant.
For your OE messages, look to use existing newsletters or weekly company messages so that your communications appear in built-in, established networks. Texts are another great, simple way to quickly notify employees to visit benefits portals and remind them of enrollment deadlines. And, it’s not out of the question to revisit print and mail options, since so many employees are working from home; this may be a logical outreach method that will get to family members or partners as well.
Rethink Universal Messaging
Targeted and personalized messaging can positively shift the response rate for your OE campaigns. In past years, many organizations put together one set of messaging and delivered that to all employees. But all of your employees are unique; they’re in different life stages, have different priorities, and different health situations, and your messaging should be tailored in a way that thoughtfully reflects these differences – especially during a pandemic. Traditional one-size-fits-all messages are simply not as effective.
Look at key demographics such as role, age, location, education level, and others to build employee groups and design messaging that resonates with those specific needs. You can adjust terminology and graphics to appeal to each group, while keeping the same core materials consistent across the company. Distill your message down to key points, and then think about additional wording or context that would match each of your major employee groups.
In this pandemic era, we have several customers who have successfully tailored messaging to accommodate both active and furloughed employees. During all of this uncertainty, it was still crucial that furloughed employees be kept in the loop – not only with benefits but with other company news too. Given that these employees no longer had access to their work computers, the situation required outside-of-the-box thinking, and leveraging text messages and even print mailers to keep furloughed employees informed about vital updates.
Rethink How You Measure Communication Success
Benefits are more important now than they’ve ever been, which means it’s critical for you to know whether you’re truly reaching employees. As your communications are sent, proper measurement and analysis of OE campaigns will help inform the impact of your campaign. Virtual OE programs allow you to quickly make adjustments (sending a new message, adding a quick deadline reminder, changing a piece of content) in order to drive stronger engagement. Measurement of how your audience is receiving your communications is critical to gauge what content is performing well, what requires tweaking, and how many employees are reviewing material as they move through their open enrollment journey.
Start this process by tracking reach messaging. Are employees opening your emails and text messages? Are they clicking links that are provided? Daily reviews of employee engagement with specific messages can alert you to problems that can be quickly resolved. You can use audience groups to take this analysis a step further; for example, if one group is not engaging with your messaging, you’ll know to adjust only for that group.
Continuous iteration of your OE communications campaign in real-time will help to better reach and engage employees and drive them to take action. If you find gaps in understanding of your content, revisit the text and modify accordingly. Adjust the cadence of communications, or add more explanatory content if feedback shows that employees are not clear on the information you’re presenting. Implementing these guidelines for measurement ahead of time means you’ll have the flexibility to make changes as you go.
Rethink Employees’ Priorities
Today, it’s more important than ever to show employees that you care about how they’re feeling, and how they’re managing during these uncertain times. Use short polls and surveys to gain more insight on employee sentiment and to identify what they need. Ask for feedback – Do they understand the actions they need to take? Do they have enough information to make decisions about enrollment? Empathy can go a long way in ensuring the workforce feels heard, and it’ll help them to comfortably navigate through the open enrollment process.
And, on top of the many changes we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, employees’ concerns have shifted drastically, and there’s now a large focus on health and wellness in the face of the pandemic. Even benefits programs that previously had limited engagement, such as employee assistance programs, are now taking center stage as employees struggle with a range of pandemic-related issues – from mental health in isolation to financial struggles. A strong OE campaign will specifically target and market the programs that will best help their workforce.
As your campaign launches, keep an eye out for signs of communication fatigue. Even before the pandemic, there were so many messages going out to employees that they were completely overwhelmed and unable to determine which ones were relevant to them – and these communications have only increased. Email, for example, is a channel that gets easily clogged with hundreds of messages, yet most employees still prefer email over other channels. Being cognizant of potential fatigue will help to inform your modes of communication, so that you can find a balanced approach and your OE messages won’t get lost in the shuffle.
Final Thoughts on a Digital Open Enrollment
Open enrollment is a critical time of year for most organizations, and it was no small feat even before the pandemic. But rather than seeing this remote, digital landscape as a new obstacle, approach this year as a new opportunity to reframe and rethink the way you launch your OE campaign. Once you have a strong framework centered around multiple channels, strategic audience segmentation, and engaging content, you can begin to layer in new tools and improvements using the data you’re able to see in real time. Going digital for open enrollment means more visibility into what’s working, which means less guesswork and a newfound ability to adapt and strengthen your program as you go – not just waiting until next year. Using these strategies to boost enrollment and understanding also allows your organization to display empathy and support in a time when it matters most. Your benefit programs are no longer an afterthought for many of your employees, so your communication experience should be able to highlight your benefits programs as a lineup that puts your people first, ultimately strengthening the trust between your company and its people.