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May 7, 2020

Running OE 2021 in a Remote Work Environment:

Is a remote OE even possible? Absolutely. Here’s how to transform your existing best practices into winning remote strategies.

At first glance, “remote” and “Open Enrollment” don’t seem to go together.

After all, getting your employees’ attention is a challenge even when you’re under the same roof!

Jeanne Meister, a founding partner of Future Workspace, writes on Pet Benefit Solutions, “The COVID-19 coronavirus is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. How we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, and of course, where we work will be changed forever!”

COVID-19 is changing the way we work – maybe forever. And planning OE in a remote environment is one of the challenges along the way.

Open Enrollment in 2020

In 2019 Pet Benefits offered OE guidance from two perspectives:

1. Employees – Are employees being educated and empowered to make their best possible choices? Last year, we addressed this question and made recommendations here.

2. HR – Is HR able to do its job properly, with maximum effectiveness and minimum stress. Last year, we covered this topic in-depth here.

And here’s the good news: If you look at last year’s articles, you’ll see that even before COVID-19, the trend has been towards digital education and information. Businesses were already facing the challenges of off-site workers and digitally engaged millennials and Gen-Xers.

Most of the best practices for OE 2019 are STILL best practices for 2020.

So, let’s take a close look at last year’s recommendations one by one and see how to implement them remotely. The ideas we cover apply equally to remote workers by choice and those who are forced home by the Coronavirus.

Helping Employees Make the Right Choices

Helping your employees choose the right plans is no simple matter. BenefitsPro reports that employees “waste an average of $750 a year by choosing a plan that’s the wrong fit for them.” How can you get your employees’ attention and educate them about your benefits during OE?

Here’s what we suggested last year and how you can implement it for 2021:

  1. Offer information multiple times – Send your employees information many times in many forms. For example, send an email, post a flyer, host a benefits fair.

Remote transformation: Yes, you can and should send information multiple times. Employees need frequent reminders to pay attention to and process your OE materials. Plus, different people respond better to different modes of communication. While you may not be able to post a poster this year, you can email a pdf flyer. And you can also utilize recorded voice messages, memes, videos, and more. You may not be able to host a live fair, but you can arrange a webinar.

Statista reports that employees are using a wide range of communication tools. Work to engage employees on all channels.

Figure 1: How co-workers communicate remotely.

Figure 1: How co-workers communicate remotely.

  1. Customize your message – Personalize your benefits messaging to employees in different stages of life.

Remote transformation: Continue customizing your message to different groups of employees. It’s easy to segment emails or Zoom meeting invites.

  1. Use digital resources – Have OE information available on online platforms for employees to access at their leisure.

Remote transformation: This year, EVERYTHING will be online! In the last few months, your company may have created internal digital platforms or set up company Zoom channels that you can use for OE. And you can continue using resources like interactive online tools or a company landing page.

Pet Benefit Solutions can send you a comprehensive marketing guide and offers assistance on making sure your enrollment platform displays your pet benefit plans effectively. Contact your Account Manager to take advantage of these services.

  1. Apply a personal touch – Be available for face-to-face meetings and interactions.

Remote transformation: This one requires some creativity and dedication! In truth, it’s not exclusively an OE issue. HR departments are grappling with creating “water cooler opportunities” across the board to keep employees engaged, connected, and happy.

Here are a few suggestions for OE:

  • Give employees the chance to schedule one-on-one phone calls or Zoom meetings.
  • Plan for time at the start or end of meetings to let employees share their personal concerns.
  • Schedule online “catch-ups” or Q&A sessions.
  • Or go retro! Pick up the phone and call your employees individually to check in with them.

Yes, these ideas take time, which may be in short supply, but the payoff is huge.

  1. Speak in simple language – Avoid confusing jargon in your OE materials.

Remote transformation: None needed. This is good advice for ANY communication, written, verbal, or digital. If you’re having trouble finding the right words, take advantage of Pet Benefit’s online, ready-made resources such as:

  • Brochures
  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • Plan Overview Videos
  • PowerPoint Presentations
  • Logos
  • Email Templates
  • Marketing Guide
  • Monthly Employee Content

Helping HR Run a Successful OE

Open enrollment is hands-down the most stressful time of year for HR. Last year we offered five tips for less stress and more results during OE.

Again, we’ll look at last year’s suggestions, and see how they apply today:

  1. Review last year’s results – You aren’t doomed to make the same mistakes again. Get input from all your departments as to what worked and what didn’t in past years. Study your notes from last year to make the best decisions for this year.

Remote transformation: While you may not be in the same physical office, you can send your co-workers surveys or reach out to them by email. Some of last year’s experiences may no longer be relevant but focus on the feedback from 2019’s digital efforts.

  1. Get Support – Make Open Enrollment a team effort. Collaborate with your employees, employee benefits partners, and managers.

Remote transformation: It’s more challenging, but not impossible, to collaborate remotely through your company’s intranet, Zoom, or conference calls. To simplify the process, you can download FAQ sheets, plan overview videos, brochures, and more directly from your Pet Benefits Administrator Portal.

Figure 2: Access resources from your company’s portal.

Figure 2: Access resources from your company's portal.

  1. Clear, consistent messaging – Go over all your materials to make sure they convey the same messaging and info. Resolve any contradictions or ambiguities. Create all new materials around a consistent idea or theme.

Remote transformation: Don’t just press “forward” or “resend” on last year’s emails! Review them carefully and edit as necessary.

  1. Reach your employees - A survey from Harris Poll and Jellyvision found that 20% of employees admitted they ignore OE messages. The real percentage is likely much higher. No wonder they’re asking redundant questions or missing deadlines. The solution? Use creative ways to get and hold your employees’ attention.

Remote transformation: Think out of the box! Record a fun video. Post a meme or cartoon. Send a small, quick, easy to read message each morning. Give your emails interesting, benefit-rich headlines.

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  1. Give enough time – That means enough time for you to plan and enough time for your employees to make their best decisions. Ideally, HR needs 4-5 months to plan a well-run campaign. So, you may be ahead of the game while you read this now. Employees often need more than the traditional one- or two-week time frame. (In fact, according to a Namely survey, lack of time is the #2 employee complaint about OE.)

Remote transformation: This is more important than ever, with many employees struggling to balance work and family obligations. If you get a head start on OE, everyone will come out happier.

Adapting to the New Reality

Running a virtual OE is just one more challenge as companies scramble to adjust to a new reality. And the tools and processes that we build may define our work environments for years to come.

Pet Benefit Solutions is proud to be able to support our partners in this effort, as Rachel Ostreicher, PBS Vice President, explains, “I’ve been impressed at how rapidly our clients adapted to support newly-remote work teams. These human resource professionals are true leaders, ready to build a new thriving culture. At Pet Benefits, we’re making sure we provide the tools they need to help employees select, manage, and use their benefits with confidence and trust.”

"These human resource professionals are true leaders, ready to build a new thriving culture."
-Rachel Ostreicher, Pet Benefit Solutions Vice President

Together, we’re going to make Open Enrollment 2021 a groundbreaking milestone in that new culture.

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