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What’s Next in Benefits Communication


Many of us can remember when SPDs were a primary communication vehicle for benefits information. We certainly have come a long way since then. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a wealth of new consumer-focused technologies and sophisticated tactics that have changed the way we communicate about benefits. But where are we going next?

In this webinar, Segal Benz Senior Vice President and Communications Leader Jennifer Benz and Vice President and Engagement Strategist Megan Yost discuss what’s working well today to engage individuals and drive action, what’s ahead, and how the current crisis will forever change people’s expectations about access to information and resources.

Topics include:

  • The top trends coming out of Silicon Valley today
  • How personalized and targeted communication will improve to drive better outcomes
  • The role of emerging technology—virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and more

Learn more about where benefits communication is headed—and how to plan now so you can stay ahead of the curve.

This webinar was previously recorded. View the full transcript below.


What’s Next in Benefits Communication

Webinar Transcript:

Jen: My name is Jennifer Benz. I’m the communications leader at Segal Benz, part of Segal. And I’m joined today by Megan Yost, who is our engagement strategist. Megan, thanks for being here today.

So, we are really excited to spend the hour with you. This is a crazy, crazy time right now. And so much has happened in the last couple of months. I know that many of you are in very stressful, personal situations and your organizations are navigating very stressful times. So again, we really appreciate you spending time with us and giving us your attention today.

We have a lot of content to cover and we have really dug into a lot of what’s been going on in the last couple of months. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about who we are. We’re going to talk about what’s driving change right now and all of the trends that have been accelerated in the last couple of months because of the coronavirus crisis. Then we're going to talk about what that means now, how we reach people, the importance of technology, and then what’s really in store for the future of communications.

We will have lots of time at the end for Q&A, and we’ve structured this agenda and this presentation a little bit differently than we normally do. We have a lot of content in the slides because we know it’s a stressful time, and many of you are going to be multitasking while you listen to this. And that’ll be a good reference. So, don’t worry about trying to capture everything while we go through this, we’ll share the slides. We have three pages of articles to reference and lots of additional information that you can dig into after the live webinar or the recording, if you’re listening to it after the live event.

So, a little bit about us before we get started. We just love the work that we do. And we’re in the very privileged position of helping great organizations, like all of you, inspire their people to improve their health, their finances, and their futures. This is the work that I've done my whole career, and my colleagues, like Megan and others, are just so inspired by this work of really helping people engage in these really important topics.

And that work is so important right now. And for all of you who are watching and listening, your work is so important right now. The work of benefit leaders during this crisis is so critical and we’re really honored to be able to support your organizations and share our thoughts.

We, as well as our colleagues in all parts of Segal, have been spending a lot of time digging into what’s going on right now. And we have a lot of resources online to share both on and So please check those out. We’re also always happy to talk and get you any of the information that we can.

So, with that, I’m going to turn it over to Megan and she’s going to dig into what’s really driving change right now. While she does that, feel free to put questions into the Q&A box and we’ll address those along the way as well as at the end of the session. So Megan.

Megan: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for making time to join us today. We’re just delighted that you’re here and to share all of this really important information about benefits and how to help your people access them and understand them.

So, let’s talk about the context in terms of where we were before COVID-19 and how this crisis has impacted communications and reaching people. So before COVID-19, there were some big trends in employee benefits, communications that were primarily driven by data and technology. Data was allowing us to personalize information, to send more targeted information to workers and employees, and reach people through new technologies like mobile, web, and other devices so they could access information anytime, anywhere.

In addition to that, there had been a trend for many years, many recent years, to better understand employees’ mindset, their psychological preferences. And to better understand the behavioral biases that we all suffer from. So that allowed us to better connect to the more emotional decision-making aspects of how we think and feel.

But despite what was going on, there was still a big gap between what people expected and what they were used to in their consumer lives and what they got in terms of information about their retirement plans or about their health benefits, and so forth. So now let's look at how the coronavirus has really changed or even heightened these expectations even more.

So, one common threat across all types of industries and organizations is that there’s major disruption that we're all experiencing. How certain industries or organizations are adapting really varies across the scale. There are some organizations that are hiring like crazy and they can't get enough people to work for them. And then there are others that have been affected really severely in terms of not being able to do what they do. So, if you think about Broadway or professional sports organizations, they can't hold concerts or can't have people attend in person. It really has changed the way that they’re working or they’re not working.

For those organizations that have changed to a more remote format that translated the office into working from home, there’s a new appreciation for digital cloud-based tools and technologies. And there’s also a greater acceptance of remote work, and also awareness of its pitfalls.

So previously, for some organizations, it was kind of common to feel like if you’re working from home, you’re phoning it in, or you weren’t really working. Which isn’t really the case. And what the data is showing now, as a lot of research is being done on this because there’s so much interest in terms of productivity and effectiveness at home, is that not only are people equally or more productive than they were in the office, but their workdays have increased by an average of three hours a day on average.

So, this is one stress that we’re going to talk about more as we think about employee well-being, and mental health, and so forth. But also we want to take a step back and think about the ways that employees are being affected in different ways. Some employees who are caring for children, school-age children, or elders are not falling into this bucket of feeling more productive. They may be feeling more stretched and more overwhelmed than ever before.

And then lastly, whatever type of work you’re doing and however you were structured before, the way that you go back will be different than it was previously. So, offices will rethink their formats as well as the experience you have. Going through the grocery store is much different in terms of the layout and the prescriptiveness of how you need to move through that experience. And we're going to talk about that in more depth as we move along here.

One framework to think about is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And that is this triangle here that talks about how we meet our most basic needs and then moves to feelings of love and belonging, as well as being our best self. And the foundation to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is psychological and safety needs. And as you can see the various categories in these buckets, you have food, access to shelter, sleep, feeling secure, employment, resources, health. Many of those things listed there are the very things that are under stress, under pressure, right now and are areas of major concern for people. So this is something also to keep in mind as we move through the different topics of what to be communicating about or what to be emphasizing. We think it’s important to really understand that people are feeling stressed at their most basic foundational needs.

Now as we think about how organizations are responding to their members, their employees, it really depends on the level of information they’re receiving from leadership. So, research that was conducted back in March showcases that if employees are receiving information, there's a difference in how they feel about their employer. If they're receiving regular frequent communications, they feel their employer can handle the outbreak and they often feel that the employer is putting safety above profits. If employees had not received information, they weren't feeling very confident about their employer and how they were handling things. And they were feeling kind of conflicted about their employer’s motivations.

And that’s really important as you think about your role as benefits leaders in this process. Never before has HR been more in the spotlight than they are right now.

So, if you think about previous crises that we have experienced, the most recent one being the global financial crisis, that really highlighted the role of financial leaders in the organizations, whether it’s your corporate finance chief or whomever else was leading in your organization.

Right now, as we think back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all of those basic fundamental needs we have, or the functions that HR covers in an organization, these are all things that are top of mind right now for employees.

And what we’re seeing is that in some of the research that thought leaders are doing in the HR space, employee engagement has never been higher. Which is a really interesting outcome of all of this craziness that we’re experiencing. And it’s also interesting that it took a crisis to really move the dial for organizations to value culture, to prioritize having people take time off. To really make sure people are accessing the tools they need for their mental, emotional, and physical health. So that’s a really good thing that has come out of the crisis and is actually really surprising to see that the data is showcasing just how many corporations and organizations are rising to the challenge.

Jen: And I would just add that that’s certainly something we’re seeing with the majority of the organizations we work with. And I think for folks who are joining this call, you hopefully are seeing that in your organizations because by being here, you’re showing a commitment to your people. But that is certainly not dismissing the really tough things that are going on with some workplaces right now too. We’ve all seen the headlines about meat-packing facilities, and there are certainly a lot of very significant challenges in the employment relationship too. But for a really good portion of employers, this has been a time to shine. And that’s proving out in the data in all sorts of interesting ways.

Megan: And not only is it important for your employees, but it’s also important for your brand, your customers, your clients. If you think about the experience your employees are having, they’re talking about it in their communities. There are websites that are tracking it for very large brands. There are websites such as or JUST Capital that are tracking celebrity and certain company reactions. So, it’s a really important time to showcase trust and build trust with your employees, and that kind of reverberates beyond your walls into the community beyond your employees.

Jen: And we see that with the employer-employee relationship, as well as the relationship with any sort of benefit provider. Whether it’s taking care of a retiree population, or a multi-employer fund that is taking care of lots of different types of workers—everything is under the spotlight now, which is really good and exciting, but it also creates a lot of challenges.

Megan: So, to summarize a lot of these themes, the workplace will be forever changed. The coronavirus really accelerated digital transformation for a lot of organizations. And it also placed new emphasis on output, not just facetime. So, it’s not just about being physically present, but really delivering for people, for colleagues, for clients, for customers. There’s more tolerance for work-life balance because there has to be, there's really no alternative—people are juggling a lot at the moment. And an increased emphasis on communication, trust, transparency, and empathy. And thinking about not just what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and how you’re supporting employees.

Now as we think about offices or any organization going back, when they do go back, that the schedules, office spaces, the accommodations themselves will really look different than how they did before. And this has important implications for communications that we’ll talk about. But you may see staggered hours, a move away from open floor plans, which had really been in vogue prior to this, as well as kind of discouraging those spontaneous meetups with couches and things placed in little nooks for people to talk. All of that will be very different in the future, for the foreseeable future.

We’ll probably see an increase in the use of flex space, so that idea of coming in and using a desk or an office for a day or two, and then also working from home. Kind of a mix of those.

And then for some, maybe what you think of as being invasive or just having more interest in your health than ever before , there will be temperature checks or thermal sensing. So just like the lights could sense whether there were people and any movement to save energy, there will be that same sense of warning from too many people being congregated together in one space.

And we would expect that large gatherings and in person events will be on hold for the foreseeable future. This is important for a lot of those retiree fairs, benefits fairs that often accompany open enrollment in the fall. So, all of those will need to be reworked or thought about a little differently. And we'll talk about those formats and how they might change in the future.

And then one important aspect of this pandemic is the rise of telehealth, telemedicine, and tele-dental in helping to accommodate continuing health, being able to prioritize your health, and continuing to have access health services safely. So we've seen a huge increase in those interactions and expect that to exceed over 1 billion by the end of the year.

And what some are predicting is that now that people have experienced this, they’re not going to tolerate it going away because they like having this closer relationship with, or more access to, their doctors, or having more convenient access from home or from wherever they are. And that you, as benefits leaders, will have a huge influence in driving the future of this in terms of the employer-sponsored health coverage that you offer to employees.

And one other interesting outcome of any crisis is the opportunity it creates because of the disruption in the environment. So, you’re seeing unlikely partnerships with leaders like Apple and Google, who are looking into developing contact tracing technology. So you may see other innovations in the digital health space as a result of the needs that are growing out of this pandemic.

So, this brings us to what’s next. With all of this change, and really rapid change in a really short period of time, what's going to happen? First, we want to consider that many are experiencing economic hardship. And even if your organization is in the privileged position of still having 100% employment or you may even be hiring, your employees’ spouses or partners may be affected. So, you can’t assume necessarily that if you’re in the position where everything is looking really good for you economically, that that’s not the case for all of your employees.

Many people are worried about the economic recovery. In fact, Josh Bersin, who is a thought leader in the HR space, has mentioned ,and has seen in the data, that this is the number one concern for employees right now—their personal financial security.

There’s also the risk of infection as businesses reopen and people venture out more when they do return to the office or to their place of employment. And then there’s that dichotomy between mass hiring and mass competition for work, where things are really competitive for the few jobs there are in some places.

And then lastly, the length of time we’re in limbo. So, I was just speaking with a client prior to this webinar today, and they were saying that while their state is looking at reopening, they foresee they’re really going to lag in terms of bringing people back on campus into their various offices across the country. So that’s a little bit about the backdrop. Go ahead, Jen.

Jen: I was having a similar conversation with one of our clients yesterday who has operations all over the country. In many states that have reopened or have never really 100% restricted things in the way that some of the larger states have, they just recently surveyed employees and found that 65% right now are very scared to return to the offices. So that same feeling of they’re not going to move very fast at all because there’s so much anxiety among their employee population about what’s next and what’s going to happen when they do get back into those offices.

Megan: So that leads us to our really deep, next question. Now what? So, Jen, I’ll let you take it from here in terms of talking about what resources and benefits are going to be front and center for employees.

Jen: Thanks Megan. And thanks for that great overview. There’s just so much data to digest and different trends to dig into. So now what? So what do we do with all of this? Right now, there’s just such a big focus on benefits. And they’re front and center in the employee and member experience. The value of them has never been more visceral, particularly the value of insurance and health insurance as a financial protection vehicle that people can really feel that right now.

So, going forward, we’re going to really want to continue to emphasize holistic wellbeing. Really tying together the physical, the emotional, and the financial. We’re going to really see a focus on how benefits help people meet their everyday needs and really help them feel secure in those lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, as Megan talked about.

And a big emphasis will be on helping make sure that everyone understands the full range of resources that are available and their value. I imagine in many of your organizations, you’re frustrated that folks aren’t fully taking advantage of everything that they could be right now to help them in this moment. And we see that all the time. So we have to really do our job to make sure that folks have access to what they need and they know how to engage.

So, we would not be talking about “what’s next” without mentioning that we anticipate a tremendous amount of benefit changes and cutbacks this year. We’ve already seen this with many organizations, and you’ve seen the headlines around the number of organizations who are suspending 401(k) matches or rolling back benefits in different ways. In terms of some of the ancillary, in some of the ancillary benefits, they’re just not applicable right now, like gym memberships and things that people really can’t access.

So, there’s all sorts of changes, big and small, happening with benefits right now, as well as that concern about what’s coming next. Is my pension fund at risk because of this current crisis? Are my benefits going to be cut back next year? What if I lose my job? Will I lose my health insurance? All of those questions are really top of mind right now. And we are going to have to do an exceptional job communicating what’s happening in all of your organizations to make sure that people are not feeling anxious about what they shouldn’t be. And that they understand the changes that are inevitably going to occur.

So, with those potential big changes aside, there are a lot of immediate communication priorities. And I’ll start with some of the ones that are really, really nitty gritty and in the weeds, and going to be super challenging to unpack. All of the policies and protocols around returning to the office, traveling safely and so forth. That is going to be a really challenging area to navigate. And I think that that is one of the biggest reasons why you see a lot of organizations saying we’re just not going to move very quickly in that area, unless we absolutely have to.

COBRA coverage and continuing health insurance for folks who have been laid off or are no longer eligible for their health benefits. That's a really challenging topic right now, particularly when folks are financially stressed and they don’t feel that they’re going to be able to afford their health insurance.

And then some of the things that get to those higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy—resilience and well-being. How do we help people manage stress, manage their mental state as well as their physical state? How do we encourage them to take time off? Maybe force them to take time off in some cases.

And a really great question came in already around the inevitable spike that is anticipated in terms of addiction and unhealthy ways to cope with that stress. So we have to anticipate that folks are going to need a lot of help. They need help in that moment. And if they don’t get the right type of help, they may resort to really unhealthy behaviors to soothe themselves.

And then there’s tremendous value right now in unique benefits. The ways organizations are supporting more childcare or supporting parental leave and so forth.

So, we’re going to see a big continued emphasis on healthcare. No surprise. One of the topics that’s really top of mind right now with many of our clients is how to encourage folks not to delay the care that they need right now, even though they’re going to get it in different methods. So, we don’t want people who are managing chronic conditions to avoid getting the care that they want, and that they need, just because of this disruption. We’re going to see a lot of focus on the basics. How do your plans work? How do you access care? Where do you find resources? And so forth.

Megan: Jen, on that last note, there’s also concern about if people are putting off seeing the doctor and taking care of some of those regular check-ins, that things could go undiagnosed, and that could exacerbate problems later on down the road. So really emphasizing the need to continually get care, even if it is having telemedicine appointments and so forth.

Jen: Absolutely. And it’s hard even for the most educated folks to do that right now. I’ll admit that I’m not taking my own advice right now. I have a sore wrist, and I’ve just been ignoring it because I’ve been so busy. So we have to really think about how we get people to engage in those things, and not make things worse by avoiding care.

That combination of health and financial stress is really clear right now. And we know that there is a physical response to financial stress. It does impact people's physical health when they are not doing well financially or when they have other big stressors in their lives. So we need to be really mindful of that as I just mentioned. And how are people going to cope with that? Are we going to see increased risk for depression and high blood pressure, and other general health impacts that could be avoided if we get people the right resources and so forth?

There are lots and lots of financial topics to communicate. Paying off debt, making sure you have that savings cushion. The whole retirement landscape has been upended for many folks. And some of those basic budgeting tools and financial resources that are out there. And really that idea of either rebuilding financial health or maintaining your financial health is going to be important.

And as Megan mentioned earlier, your company may not be making big cuts, but the spouses of your people or their family members may be in very different financial situations. So, it’s important not to make assumptions about what your people need right now, but to really figure out and talk to them about what type of support they need. Megan, do you want to talk a little bit about spending needs in retirement and just kind of how complex this is right now?

Megan: So, there’s been some really interesting research into what financial priorities people had pre-crisis, and how they’ll shift now given this backdrop of what we’re experiencing.

One of the predictions was that historically, a lot of retirement pension managers would think about. plan sponsors would think about, trying to get their employees to replace 70 to 80% of their income. And they’re now saying post-crisis, that people are going to shift and really focus on trying to replace 100% of their income when they do retire eventually. And that’s a hard thing to communicate right now when people are feeling financially stressed—telling people to save even more. So paying attention to the tone and using small steps and encouraging people to think about the future and how you do so, will be more critical than ever.

Additionally, the cost of healthcare. Particularly the cost of healthcare and retirement is something that I think will resonate more than ever before with your people. So, think about helping people think about why they’re saving and what they’re saving for in the future, and then also how to make their savings last, the best time to take social security, and so forth.

And then finally, how the markets have impacted retirement plans. That’s been a big topic of discussion for many, many months…the last few months now. In terms of the volatility that we’re seeing, how that’s impacting 401(k) balances. How to advise people or what guidance to give them when they see those statements, when they see them at the end of the year. And then they’re looking at those numbers—help them pivot from a balanced focus to an income focus.

Jen: Absolutely. Absolutely. So that’s a lot of the immediate now what. And now let’s talk a little bit about how we really reach people where they are. Both physically and emotionally.

Megan: Yeah. So that's a really good point, Jen, in that you’re not just rethinking the formats and the media that you use to reach people, because they may be at different locations. They’re at home or they’re not accessing the office like they used to. You need to think about the tone and the tenor and what you’re saying, just as much as the media itself. So, you want to, as we mentioned before, keep in mind that people are stretched thin. They may be overwhelmed. They may not have the bandwidth to really digest a really meaty email with lots of information in it. So short, sweet is better.

And then thinking about creative ways to engage people. So, I think everyone is thinking about their mental health or it’s on the forefront right now. But you might need to really encourage people to listen to the webinars that you’re making available, or to attend some of these on-demand exercise classes or whatever it is that your organization is able to make available. How can you make it fun?

So, one of our clients is doing a steps challenge right now. Even though it’s virtual, it’s still getting people outside, it’s helping them get some exercise. It’s giving them that mental break, and they can be on teams together. And that creates a sense of comradery, even though they’re physically distant from one another.

So that gets to that idea of we’re virtual, but we’re still connected. So the work environment schedules have changed. People may be working different hours from one another, or in different locations. But how can we keep connection and community together through this experience when people are really dispersed? So, one other idea, as you think about the communications themselves, is where can you use them to build community and to bring people together?

Some other trends that are emerging from COVID-19, that we believe will continue and will be forever changed, are that people will continue to expect to hear from leaders. And to hear from them in a less formal, more authentic way. So, if you’ve seen your CEO in the kitchen, you’re not going to necessarily be as willing to only see them or hear them on the phone in the future. You’re going to want to see them more often and be more connected to them. So, the use of less produced effective communications like video will continue, and we’ll see those lower budget videos used throughout the fall with annual enrollment.

Also, this combination of live and on-demand content. So, understanding that people might want to have these Q&A sessions to answer questions, but not everyone’s going to be able to access them at the same time if they’re caring for people at home. So, making things on-demand later, and being able to find that.

On that note, easy digital access is a must. You need to have a place to put these things so people can find them after the fact and can listen to webinars or any type of session that you’re offering. And dynamic interactive content can go a long way with helping people engage better with the information that you’re providing to them.

Jen: And I would just add, and we have said this on prior webinars too, that this crisis and this need for real-time, frequent, simple communication highlights the gaps in a lot of organizations’ infrastructure. So, if you don’t have the means to do some of these things, you need to get them in place to be able to support this expectation ongoing. And fortunately, there are ways to do that, that can meet the needs of any sort of organization in terms of budget and branding, and so forth.

So, I would add on to this that this incredible merging of work and life were already coming together. And this has just really accelerated that change. But with that comes people’s expectations, which have really increased in terms of the way they’re being supported. We have people that have incredibly broad and diverse needs. That was the case before the coronavirus crisis. And it’s even highlighted more now where we have such a diverse workforce, such diverse member populations. And the things that were kind of one-size-fits-all in the past just doesn't work anymore. They just don't feel like they’re going to meet people’s needs. So we have this really intense situation in terms of helping people navigate their personal lives.

And then we have to be really, really mindful of unintentional biases when it comes to doing that type of communication and making sure that we’re getting people resources that are relevant. And that we’re not making assumptions about what they need.

And we see a big opportunity for making communications very high touch, even if they are at a distance. So, having digital resources that feel incredibly human, that speak to people really where they’re at, acknowledging that work and life mismatch. And acknowledging that folks have really complex caregiving situations right now, and really being that high touch and human resource, that human voice. Even if it’s all digital and even if it’s all at a distance.

Along those lines, we also see a real need to empower managers to help share the message. And what you see on screen is Lenovo’s benefits website paired with some of the training for managers and tips for how they can help their colleagues feel more connected. Megan, anything that you would add?

Megan: I would just add that managers are an important channel to utilize during this period. So that when you’re thinking about all the ways to reach employees, they, managers, have trusted relationships with employees. So, it’s important to arm them with information to help them know where to steer people and all of the resources that they can access.

Jen: Yep, absolutely. I will say too, in this very digital world, print is still going to play a special role. So, don’t discount the value of it. It’s still a way to get things into households. It can be a nice alternative when you want people to really be able to absorb something. And you can do a lot with personalized materials that are going to get to that very high touch experience, and help people really understand what things mean for them.

We are going to see a tremendous need to communicate more frequently. And folks really have an expectation of frequent communication. One survey that came out earlier this spring, the Edelman Trust survey, had 63% of folks wanting daily updates from their employer. So that desire for frequent communication is going to continue. And again, just like you can’t go back to the CEO being totally inaccessible up in his glass tower, or in her private jet, you have to keep up with that frequency of communication. People are going to demand that communication continue in the way that it has. That it’s authentic, human, and consistent.

And that also leads to this notion of moving beyond personalized to this very personal experience. And we talked at the beginning of the webinar about how personalized communication and the personalized engagement experience was such a trend before this crisis. And a lot of that had to do with data, and how we get people to the right benefit at the right time, and help them see how the different pieces fit together. I think we’re going to move from that kind of data-driven idea of personalization to one that just feels very personal and human. That has a tremendous amount of empathy for where people are. That helps people understand that you, as their employer or as their benefit provider, that you understand what they’re going through. And you’re really thinking about how to serve them in a very personal way.

What I think is also interesting is we’re sharing a tremendous amount of personal health data in the workplace right now, very freely. Have you been tested, are you sick? Did you recover from that cold? What is the health status of everyone in your house? All of this is being shared very freely in a lot of cases. And that very personal and kind of intimate type of communication isn’t going to go away. So that creates a really strong opportunity for managers and peers to be ambassadors of helping people get to the resources that they need.

And it also creates some really complicated situations in terms of the legality of what type of information you ask people for, or what type of conversations managers are having about people’s health and so forth. So very interesting environment to navigate right now.

All right, Megan, let’s talk a little bit about the importance of technology and some of those methods. And there’s some great questions coming in that we’ll get to in this next section. So thanks for those. And anyone else, please enter your questions along the way.

Megan: Yes. So as Jen mentioned, technology will be a key to success going forward. We’ve said a few times now that consumer expectations are heightened. There’s been a real shift to a digital-first strategy to having information accessible on the web.

Having information that is easily accessible, that’s current, that’s up to date, is a top priority and will continue to be so. And live support will continue to be paired with on-demand access. And underlying all of this is that privacy concerns won’t go away. And it is something for you to think about.

So, let’s shift now and talk a little bit more about emerging technologies and where things could go in the future. So, there’s been a whole host of information, or technologies, that have been developed in recent years—artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality. All of these are really exciting and interesting to consider and how to incorporate them into communication strategies.

Our view is that they should be leveraged for their strengths and you should really think through the pros and cons before investing or utilizing any of these technologies. You want to think about how they can enhance engagement and how you can use them the most optimally to engage people. And also consider the barriers and what might prevent people from using them or prevent adoption. And what you’re going to get the best return on your investment for.

So, let’s think about artificial intelligence first. This is ubiquitous; it’s everywhere in our lives. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the idea of using data to inform content. So, this is already happening and you’re already seeing it in the administrative platform that you’re using. We use it in the “people like me “features—so to personalize recommendations. It’s often used as a first line of defense for self-service and answering questions.

But what about other technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality? So augmented reality is when you overlay virtual content onto a physical material or physical environment. This could be something like a newsletter where you hold your phone over to bring to life a video or other animated content. This is best used for interactive content, data visualization, and animation.

But there are serious barriers to its adoption, such as expensive hardware needed to bring things to life. And also accessibility challenges for people with disabilities.

On the other side of the equation is the virtual reality. So this is the experience where you use a headset or goggles to immerse yourself in an environment and simulate the real world in an artificial environment. This can be really useful for safety training or onboarding. But again, there are barriers to adoption, such as expensive equipment, hardware, software needed, as well as social acceptance, similar to video conferences prior to the COVID pandemic ,where it wasn't really widely used and people were tentative to do it if the person on the other end of the line wasn’t on video as well.

Jen: I would add on augmented reality and virtual reality that we were thinking these would pick up steam a lot faster prior to this crisis. And I think with this current crisis, we’re certainly going to still see advancements in this. But as far as they are used for benefits communication and HR communication, I think we’re going to have a lot more back to the basics of getting really good digital channels in place. And these are going to be used just by a handful of organizations that already have invested tremendously in their overall benefits experience. Megan, anything else you wanted to add on that before we talk about benefit fairs?

Megan: Now let's move forward to thinking about benefits fairs and how we’re going to re-conceptualize those in a digital world. So take it from here.

Jen: Great. Okay, well this is a topic that is top of mind for folks right now. We’ve had a couple of questions come in about it already. And we’re working with many of our clients right now to rework their benefit fairs and their annual enrollment meetings. And all of the kind of onsite and in-person events that they were planning this year to move them into an online format.

So, this is a really exciting opportunity, and we can really build on the best practices of what has worked in in-person environments. We can use technology in ways that are appropriate for your different audiences and that really play to the strengths of doing things online. There are certainly aspects of the in-person event that can’t really be replicated online.

But I think for most organizations, the benefits of having things accessible and available to a broader audience and also being able to repurpose and reuse the content that’s created for online events, is going to make up for what you really can't replicate from that in-person experience.

Because for a lot of organizations, there’s a big investment that goes into in-person meetings and in-person events, even though they only reach a small portion of the overall audience. So we have an opportunity here to really increase or reach a much, much larger group of folks.

So, we really see three different approaches emerging in terms of how to structure the online or virtual benefit fairs. The first one is really to think about having a series of webinars and/or online office hours that are simply paired with a website. You can use your preferred webinar provider, whether it’s Zoom, or WebEx, or Teams, or whatever your organization uses. You can record that content, publish it for on-demand viewing. You could create a custom microsite or a custom landing page that houses all that information. So, it’s really thinking about a series of webinars or a series of live events.

And many organizations do some format of this already. Where we see the most opportunity is to do shorter and more targeted topics. So instead of how your health plan works, think about carving out a specific area of it. Or instead of how your HSA works, how you can use your HSA for investing. So really digging into more detailed topics.

The second approach we see is adopting one of these virtual conference spaces or a virtual event space. And I imagine many of you have seen these. They are online experiences where you walk into a space that looks like a conference or looks like a big expo hall. And you can go and visit the different booths and the different conference rooms or the different theater rooms. And listen in on sessions or talk one-on-one. There are a lot of players that operate with these types of virtual spaces. Many of them require annual subscriptions. And we’re seeing that this might be a little bit overdone for many organizations. They don’t need something that is quite this much of a virtual experience. But it certainly could work for many organizations, and it’s an option to consider.

The one that I think we’re seeing the most interest in right at this moment is to kind of merge those two ideas into a custom online experience. So that means creating a robust kind of custom branded web page or small website where you’re hosting a mix of live and on-demand content. And this kind of mirrors that approach that a lot of high tech companies take with their virtual events. And you can go online and see a lot of the way organizations like Adobe do these virtual events where they have a really beautiful landing page that has all sorts of different topics that you can engage with, as well as potentially breakout rooms where you can have small individual conversations.

So, there are a lot of different ways to approach this. And what’s going to be key is to find the format that makes the most sense for your audience. And then also think about, just as you do with everything with benefits communication, view barriers to access. If folks need to go through 16 steps just to get to your virtual event, they’re probably not going to go through all of that work. So make it really easy to access and think about how you can combine the best ideas of how online events work for your audience.

And that may mean that you don’t really do an online event. For a lot of our clients that have big retiree populations, they do telephone-only town halls. And that works brilliantly for a population that really is most comfortable with the phone and that type of experience. So a lot of different approaches here.

What we’re also excited about with the virtual events is this is a great way to combine the vendor experiences. We do a lot of work of helping organize how all of the different vendors and administrators that make up the benefits ecosystem connect and collaborate. So a virtual event is a great way to bring them together in a way that is really strategic and really focuses on how they help your population the most.

Megan: All right.

Jen: Megan, anything you’d add on that or do you want to jump to some of the keys to success?

Megan: Yeah, I was just going to build on some of the tips for capturing attention that you were alluding to in that last section of keeping things short and drilling down into more specific bite-sized content. That is certainly a tip that we recommend and that we're going to see more frequent shorter visual content. Anything that’s long, complicated, or hard to read or access is bad and is not going to be successful in engaging your employees. So, where you can tailor and target, that’s going to be more meaningful and more relevant to your members or your workers.

Additionally, if you’re asking people to take action, remember to keep it positive and encourage small steps and not giant leaps. So, expecting someone to move from 5% saving in their 401(k) to 20% is too much, too fast.

That said, even though you want to keep things positive, there may be bad news. You may be experiencing hardships that you need to reduce benefits or change benefits that will have a significant impact on your people. So how best do you communicate bad news?

First is be clear and get right to the point. You don't want to mix messages and confuse people. And always explain the rationale. So, explain why you’re making a change. People will better understand it if there’s an explanation given.

And then also building trust during difficult times. Being transparent about what’s known and unknown. This is always a best practice. So, you may not know when you’re returning to the office or when operations are going to return to normal. But let people know that that is still being considered. And that’s on the table to being discussed.

And respond to questions and concerns. And that’s really important as well as supporting your managers who are dealing with all kinds of questions from employees. They’re really counseling employees during this time, and workers and members. So recognize that, inform them with information. And not just what, but how. Give them resources, trainings, and so forth.

And lastly, recognize that there may be tension between supporting individuals and promoting well-being, and recommending taking time off and helping them manage their mental health. But also getting business done, getting things done. And that business continuity is going to be a tough line to walk. So, think about that in the messaging that managers are sharing with their reports and how that factors into your overall messaging about well-being. So, what’s in store for the future? Jen, what are your predictions?

Jen: All right, well our final note is that the genie is out of the bottle in terms of expectations around communication really changing forever more because of this current crisis. I don’t think things will ever be back to normal in terms of the workplace experience, and they’re certainly not going to be back to normal in terms of what people expect from their communication.

So frequent and transparent communication has always been preferred. Now that folks are experiencing it, they are going to demand that you keep it. And then the expectations around the use of technology and the accessibility to information, those heightened expectations are certainly going to continue. And we’re going to have to meet folks where they are and with what they expect.

But I also think this is a really exciting thing. People are super engaged in their benefits right now. And we can use this time to really help them change behaviors in a way that was really, really much, much more challenging before when people were not looking to their benefits for so much support and guidance. So, I think it’s going to be a really challenging year ahead, but also very interesting. And with a potential to really drive engagement and results in a way that has been very difficult in the past. Megan, anything you'd add to that?

Megan: No, I agree 100%. Being upfront and transparent is critical during this time.

Jen: Great. Well again, we have a lot of additional resources online, both on and We have just a few minutes left and I want to get to some of the great questions that have come in. We are happy to spend a little bit more time and go over just the top of the hour, if more questions come in.

So, the first one ... and I should say here’s mine and Megan’s contact information. We are always happy to chat. Anyone else on our team is always happy to chat. So, if you want to discuss your situation one-on-one, we’re always, always delighted to.

So, the first question that came in is, "What is the benefit to having a custom-branded web page to house webinars or have live events versus using your current intranet or your HRS platform?" And I would say that’s simply about accessibility and making it as easy as possible for folks to engage. Megan, what would you say about that?

Megan: Yeah. Building on the accessibility, what’s important to consider is that you’re also trying to reach the households, so the spouses and the partners. And there’s some really good content on there if they’re the primary decision maker, or they could benefit from a webinar in substance abuse, or anxiety, or anything else that you have available. If they're not able to access it because it’s behind a firewall, then they may not be able to benefit from that really wonderful content that you’ve created or that you’ve shared online.

Jen: Yeah. And even for an employee population that is maybe only accessing the intranet when they’re logged on through VPN, and on the network and so forth. For me, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and a lot of webinars while I’m cutting vegetables or out for a walk. So we want people to have as many opportunities to engage as possible and to really make that as simple as possible.

Megan, I know this is a question that you do a lot of support for several of our clients, which is “If you don't operate all of the benefit programs internally, how does HR coordinate best between all of the outside benefit providers and administrators to make sure that they’re all coordinated and delivering information to employees in a smart way?”

Megan: Yeah, so it can be really beneficial to have someone who’s that kind of hub in the spoke of all of the benefits providers, who is charged with figuring out the best way to strategically share information and to highlight information with your members or employees. So, we play that role for some of the clients that we work with where we’re coordinating calls with all of the vendors. We facilitate those and we are the hub through which information is common. Then we make the judgment call with the client about what to highlight and when. Which you could have someone on your team do that as well. Or having a third party sometimes helps you think through what’s strategic and where to put information. Where to prioritize it and where to highlight different things.

Jen: And I think that’s very important now because you don’t want folks to be overwhelmed. You want to make it a really simple and easy experience for them to know what’s most important right now.

Another question, “What do we do about the complexity of legal documents that specify the actual employee benefits?” This lack of clarity has been a problem for a really long time.

Megan: Yeah. This is one of my favorite topics. I’m really passionate about how information is provided to employees and to members. And I think it’s really important that that information, the legal documents, are also available to employees and easy to access that detailed information.

But the idea is layering. So if you think about a funnel, you want the most basic, simple information available to all. And then if people have more questions, they can drill down into things, they can find that resource on the website. So all of your SPDs and other more detailed statements, legal disclosures and so forth. They’re still there and they’re still available for people who have specific questions or want to access that information. But the kind of high-level information about what the match is in the 401(k) or what the costs are for the medical plan, that should be easily found and easily accessible. And when they want to drill deeper and go a layer deep, they can find that in the additional resources that are posted online.

Jen: And I would add that Megan has an interesting blog post up on our site that we just recently posted around a recent Supreme Court decision. Around the actual knowledge of retirement plan disclosure. So, it’s an area that’s always evolving.

I agree with Megan that we want those legal documents to be understandable and clear. But getting folks that engaging information that’s going to help them make decisions is so, so important. And that’s not going to happen with the legal documents. That’s just not the nature of them. So we need to have all of those different channels.

Okay. Another question about virtual benefit fairs, and then we’ll wrap up in just a couple minutes. I know we’re a bit over. So, “Do you have experience working with the various virtual benefit fair vendors, and what should we be looking for in a partner if we're considering this option for open enrollment?” Megan, do you want to jump in on that or ...

Megan: Yeah. When you think about looking for a partner, it’s the same as when you’re evaluating other vendors in terms of how they’ll accommodate you. If you have any special considerations like what you’re able [to do], you want to understand what you’re getting for the investment that you’re making. What you’re able to customize, what you’re not able to customize. Any customization add-ons? Is that factored in or do you have to pay for that separately? I think you want to understand what you’re getting for the investment and how it would work. And definitely having demos of these virtual fairs ahead of time and trying to see if you think that the experience is feasible and if it works for your organization. If your employees are members, would they be game for embracing it or not. You want to have a sense for whether it would be received well, maybe test it with some colleagues, some other members, or stakeholders in your organization who could give you some feedback before you roll it out. Especially if it’s a big expense.

Jen: Yeah. And I would add that really thinking about what the right technology for your audience is, and the experience that you’re trying to create. And thinking about where the time and resources go. Do you want your budget to go to a technology solution, or do you want it to go to producing really good content that maybe needs a less expensive technology for delivery?

So, there’s a lot of different factors there. We’re doing a ton of research right now with all of the different vendors that are out there and all the different technology solutions. So, we’re happy to talk to anyone who wants to dig into that more. And the last question is, "Do you see a greater need for total compensation and other personalized statements at this time?"

Megan: I think this is one of those topics that comes in and out of vogue over time. So they can be really popular and really utilized, and then not so much. I always think it’s valuable to showcase to employees, especially now, the value of their health plan and retirement resources, additional amenities or virtual amenities that you have available. All of those things, they are valued so much more than money. And they’re so foundational, like I said earlier, in terms of how we feel about our lives and how safe we feel or the kind of peace of mind having health insurance provides. So, I do think it’s important to provide those in total comp statements if you’re able to.

Jen: And other types of personalized materials like personalized enrollment guides or even personalized mailers that help you really understand how your benefits work best, or the opportunities that you’re missing out on. Those are so valuable right now, especially with folks who are overwhelmed. If there’s a key decision that people need to make, and you can break it down for them in a personalized way so that it’s just such an easy yes-no decision, that’s going to go a long way right now.

Great. Well, I know we’re a bit over. We so appreciate everyone joining us. And we hope that this information has been really valuable. It’s an area where things are moving so fast right now. There’s so much changing, and we are certainly going to keep an eye on all of these and the other trends that are emerging.

We would love to hear from you on what resonated, if you have other ideas or other areas that you would like us to explore. We will share this recording as well as the slides. And the slides include just a ton of resources, all of the articles that we read in preparation for this and so forth.

So again, thank you so much for joining us. This is a very stressful, and interesting, and challenging time right now. And we really appreciate you making time to spend with us and having the opportunity to share these insights. And Megan, thanks so much for joining as well.

Megan: And thanks to all of you for making time. We appreciate it. So thanks again.

Jen: Great. Thanks everyone. Have a good day.