HR Guide to Virtual Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is getting closer and closer! Here are 4 steps you can take to offer OE virtually and smoothly.

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If 2020 taught us anything, it’s the value of adapting to new and unexpected circumstances. It seems crazy, but that signature end-of-the-year process — you guessed it, healthcare benefits open enrollment — is coming around the corner sooner than you might think. For many companies, it’s likely that at least some, if not most, of their workforce will still be remote in the fall. If your business is one of these companies, it’s time to consider doing open enrollment virtually.

Going virtual with open enrollment can be exciting because it means ditching the endless stacks of paper and stale benefits presentations. For many, though, it also means coming up with a brand new way of doing things and that can certainly be daunting.

Whether you’re looking to get it right this year after a bumpy transition in 2020 — or you’re ready to make the switch and looking for how to do it — here are HR tips and steps you can take to offer virtual open enrollment.

Choose a virtual open enrollment platform

There are generally 2 approaches to virtual open enrollment:

  • Building your own virtual system, or
  • Selecting an HR platform that offers virtual enrollment

Neither option is inherently right or wrong, they’re just different in terms of time, cost, and the like. Building your own system will mean more money upfront, but it gives you the chance to deeply customize it. The thing to remember, though, is that you’re still responsible for Affordable Care Act compliance — so it’s important to work with a pro who knows what they’re doing.

Going with an off-the-shelf platform is much less of an investment and an option that many small businesses feel more comfortable with. Plus there are usually guarantees or other remedies for any non-compliance that results from the use of a third-party platform which can help take some of the risk off of you.

Be prepared to answer new questions about virtual open enrollment

Whichever route you go, there will certainly be questions. While most platform options have some kind of chatbot or other Q&A feature that can help take some of the load off, people will still come to you with questions about the new process.

While most platform options have some kind of chatbot or other Q&A feature that can help take some of the load off, people will still come to you with questions about the new process.

It can be easier to preempt some of these questions like:

  • When and for how long employees can access the platform
  • The information they’ll need to use it, and
  • What you expect them to select once they’re in it

Virtual office hours or Zoom presentations can help address employee questions remotely.

Consider gamifying the virtual open enrollment process

Because a virtual open enrollment process will likely be more self-driven than in-person enrollment — where you can more easily ensure that enrollment deadlines are met — making it a contest can help boost participation.

From offering prizes for registering before the enrollment deadline to offering incentives like a lunch on the company to teams with the most on-time enrollments, there are all kinds of ways you can incentivize people to take those steps on their own.

Start preparing for next year’s open enrollment now

The more information and data you can gather on how it went this year, the better you’ll be able to address those issues and create a smoother process next year.

The first year you go virtual might be a bumpy process, but the more information and data you can gather on how it went this year, the better you’ll be able to address those issues and create a smoother process next year.

Maybe there was a line out the digital door for your virtual office hours this year, so you need to plan to host more of them next year. Did everyone seem to have the same or similar questions? If so, is there a way you can deliver that information better next year so the process is clearer from the outset? What were the issues that people had with the system or platform? How can it be improved next year?

Like all things digital, virtual open enrollment offers more customization than traditional analog processes. Rather than trying everything perfectly sorted and customized during your first year, use it like more of a case study or experiment. Once you have more data and information on how things went in year one, you can use it to make the customization decisions that will be most useful moving forward.

Remember, it’s a process!

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