2020 was a challenging year for open enrollment — the annual period when employees can sign up for health insurance or change their plans. Although HR teams have used virtual open enrollment systems for years, it’s usually in concert with in-person events and face-to-face meetings. When COVID-19 struck, they had to quickly pivot to an online-only process.

This year hasn’t quite seen a return to normal. Instead, HR teams are adapting to the so-called “new normal,” where teams can be on-site, working remotely or a hybrid of both. Flexible work schedules call for a flexible open enrollment system so you can meet the needs of employees wherever they’re based.

Whether you’re new to virtual enrollment or want to refine your existing process, the following tips will help ensure a successful season.

Review last year’s performance

Creative solutions often emerge under challenging circumstances, so don’t automatically discard any ad hoc policies you rolled out during the pandemic. Get your HR team together and talk about what you got right and what you can improve.

It’s also a good idea to talk to employees and see what they thought of last year’s online open enrollment. Users can tell you if the system is straightforward and suggest options they would like to see included. Analyzing their experiences will help you make the process more accessible for all.

Pick the right tools

If you don’t already have one, you’ll need a cloud-based open enrollment hub where employees can access all the resources they need, from documents to how-to videos. Ask your IT team to help you assess the various software packages on the market to ensure their functionality meets your needs. The more intuitive and user-friendly the platform is, the less time you and your team will spend fielding basic questions. 

Beyond this, you need to think creatively about how to share updates and reminders in a timely, efficient way. Think about the digital tools — email, Microsoft Teams, Slack and your intranet come to mind — that your employees are most comfortable with and use those to get your messages out.

People who’ve been working remotely for nearly two years can be forgiven for suffering from information overload, so don’t expect every employee to read every email or Slack message. A good strategy is to mix quickfire reminders with more prominent events, such as virtual town halls where groups can connect with an HR professional or benefits rep.

Give employees as much time as possible

An enrollment window measured in weeks rather than months works fine in an office setting. Everyone sees the posters, and they can drop by an information booth if they have questions. But now that you’re dealing with a remote or hybrid workforce, you may need to stretch out the process a bit. Full-time remote employees can easily forget about open enrollment season, so they’ll need periodic reminders. In future years when people are used to virtual enrollment, you may be able to speed things up, but for now, build sufficient time into the process.

Monitor engagement

Your open enrollment hub should offer some analytics that will allow you to track engagement and activity. Keep a close eye on employees who show no sign of interacting with the platform. They may require some extra reminders before they start making their decisions.

Tracking engagement can answer other questions as well: How many people are opening your information emails? How many are attending virtual town hall meetings? If you don’t have a tracking system, then connect with local managers. Ask them to speak to their teams and find out how comfortable employees are with remote online enrollment.

Offer extra support where needed

Benefit selection is trickier than it looks. Employees will have plenty of questions, especially if they’ve gone through a change in circumstances over the past year that could affect the benefits choices they make.

Not all these questions are suited to town hall-type settings. Benefits can be deeply personal, and many employees won’t want to discuss them in front of coworkers. Offer some times when enrollees can speak one-to-one with you or a benefits rep. Encourage employees to invite their spouse or significant other to the appointment — a unique advantage of the virtual process.

HR’s job is to be there for employees no matter what. If your team is struggling to keep up with queries, consider bringing in some contract professionals. Adding reinforcements with experience in open enrollment could be the key to a smoother process.