How Companies Successfully Ran Virtual Open Enrollment in 2020

Many are continuing the practice in 2021 and continuing to use different types of communications to reach employees.

Plan sponsors learned valuable lessons from holding virtual open enrollments last year.

“2020 was a year like no other on a personal level, professional level, emotional level and physical level,” said Gabrielle Marroig, vice president, enterprise, large markets and health insights, at Benefitfocus, during a webinar hosted by the firm. “When everything is uncertain, everything that is important becomes clear. Human resources [HR] professionals quickly realized that communication to participants would be key and that they would need to be adaptive and creative to succeed in that.”

Jessica Borchik, senior director, benefit catalog advisors, at Benefitfocus, said that in spite of the financial pressures many companies experienced in 2020 due to the pandemic, they made it a priority to secure best-in-class insurance products for their employees. “They wanted to ensure that they were offering the right benefits to their employees,” she said. She added that Benefitfocus suggested that companies use positive themes for their 2020 virtual open enrollment efforts, such as “thrive” and “flourish.”

That certainly was the case last year at American Eagle Outfitters. Tammy Fennessy, director of benefits at the retailer, said the company wanted to ensure that its associates working in 1,000 locations in North America and Asia knew that the company cared about them. “One of our bigger messages last year was on keeping premiums flat for a second year in a row,” Fennessy said. “We also wanted them to know we were offering virtual telehealth at 100% coverage.”

American Eagle used virtual open enrollment and held live webinars to educate its associates about the options available to them, she said. For those working in stores without access to a computer at work, American Eagle taped short videos they could then view on their own time, she added.

This year, American Eagle is continuing its virtual benefits fair and, like last year, making accessibility to signing up for benefits available year-round.

As far as what advice she would give to other HR professionals, Fennessy said, “Be nimble and use different media to reach different populations.”

Baptist Health in Montgomery, Alabama, decided to keep its benefits consistent in a tumultuous year, said Anna Dempsey, human resources team lead. “As the health care industry was incredibly hard hit by the pandemic, our most important objective as we went into open enrollment was to present our 5,000 team members with something that wasn’t going to change and that was consistent and familiar. Consistency became our main objective—not rolling out something big, new or unknown.”

Baptist Health promoted its virtual open enrollment with email blasts every two to three days and with posters in the elevators and reminder cards on top of the tables in every break room, Dempsey noted.

“We also made it a point to reach out to the managers to alert them if an employee hadn’t signed into the open enrollment,” she said.

Borchik agreed that sponsors should use different types of media to reach different demographic groups and noted that while “human resource teams sometimes feel that a text message might be a little invasive, text messages have become a key means of communicating and are a medium HR teams should seriously consider.”

She said companies also might consider small perks to entice people to virtually enroll in their benefits, such as a $5 Starbucks gift card or a T-shirt.