How to host a successful virtual benefits fair

Jul 01, 2020 - Cat DiStasio

The benefits fair is a staple of human resources. It’s when associates gather to learn about your company’s benefits, ask questions, and enroll for the first time (for new hires) or make changes to their existing benefits. This isn’t the type of event that can be cancelled or even postponed, especially as open enrollment periods draw near. So, in this new age of social distancing, creative solutions are necessary. Enter the virtual benefits fair. All the information and support your associates have come to expect, but now hosted online to keep everyone safe and healthy.

In addition to the safety consideration, a virtual benefits fair can help you keep costs down and improve engagement. Since virtual events like this can be easily accessed from any location with an internet connection and on a variety of devices, your employees can participate from the comfort of their homes, remote offices, or wherever else they find themselves right now. Likewise, your benefits team won’t need to travel to satellite offices to give the same speech over and over. You can include all your employees in the same event, saving everyone time and headaches.

Don’t underestimate the experience of a virtual benefits fair, either. It’s not the Powerpoint-based webinar you’re probably thinking about. With today’s innovations in event technology and video, your virtual benefits fair can be just as personable—and personal—as your in-person fairs have been in the past. Let’s take a look at what you need to do before, during, and after your virtual benefits fair to make sure it’s a success.

BEFORE: Plan carefully, and well in advance.

All virtual events, whether they’re informational or for recruiting purposes or something with a more social focus, are better with careful advance planning. What do we mean by careful? It’s crucial to plan your events with the perspective of your audience in mind. In this case, you’re planning an event for new and existing employees, so you’ve already got a good read on what they want, need, and expect.

First, decide what type of event you want to host. Will this event be strictly for medical and other benefit programs, or would you like to host a broader ‘health and wellness’ fair that also includes other related employee perks, such as gym discounts, reimbursements, and so on? Being clear about your goal will help you give the proper attention to each aspect of your event.

In general, you want to aim to include all the same features and resources in your virtual benefits fair that you have offered during in-person fairs in the past. This might include benefits plan information, like coverage levels and premiums, as well as instructions and resources for enrollment and changes, plus access to benefits advisors who can answer any questions that arise.

If you’re able to offer online self-service tools for enrollments, now’s the time to highlight that option. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to collect and fact check all this information, so don’t rush to put together a virtual benefits fair at the last minute. Start planning early and use the extra time to promote the event to your employees, so they understand why it’s important to participate and mark their calendars.

DURING: Designing the in-event experience

Again, keep your audience’s needs and preferences in mind as you design your virtual benefits fair. Since you’re replacing an in-person event, you’ll most likely want to leverage the next best thing for creating human connection: video. Kicking off the event with a welcome video from your benefits manager is a smart start, and consider also including employee testimonials and even videos from benefits providers if they have something particularly interesting to offer or you just want to put faces to names.

Benefits fairs always bring a lot of questions to the surface, and hosting a broadcast booth is a great way to answer the frequently asked questions you already have on your radar. Participants can also ask or submit questions for a benefits manager to answer via live video broadcast so everyone attending the booth can hear the answers. You can even ask associates to submit questions in advance, if they wish to remain anonymous during the benefits fair.

Speaking of privacy, many associates may want to ask questions or discuss personal situations privately with a benefits advisor. A virtual benefits fair can support private one-on-one text conversations, which can be turned into audio or video connections if the parties choose. This allows employees to ask their questions without revealing any personal information to other employees outside of your benefits team.

AFTER: Following up

Like most virtual events, a virtual benefits fair isn’t really over when it’s over. You’ll need to follow up with participants after the fact to host a truly successful event. You’ll want to make sure everyone gets all their questions answered, even if a benefits advisor needs to do some research and connect with them at a later date.

You can also schedule follow-up appointments with your benefits manager, if needed to handle unique situations or more complex questions. Make all expectations about timelines clear in your follow-up communications, such as deadlines for submitting new enrollments or for making changes. Here’s another opportunity to remind employees about self-service portals if enrollment can be submitted online.

And don’t be afraid to ask your associates for feedback about the virtual benefits fair. Finding out what they liked or didn’t, and hearing their suggestions for improvements, will save you some guesswork and help you improve your future events.

Virtual benefits fairs benefit everyone

Your benefits team saves time, travel, and expenses. Your employees get the information they need, when they need it, while you keep them safe and socially distant. While it may seem like a disruption to pivot an in-person benefits fair to a virtual event, there’s no better way to meet your business needs and continue to serve your employees at the same time. Now, if only we could do something about those rising premiums...

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