Embracing the New Digital Age: Creating Your Virtual Employee Benefits & Engagement Strategy

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After an entire year of working remotely, many employers are thoughtfully reflecting on the experience and reevaluating their long-term work from home strategies. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner found that 88 percent of worldwide organizations moved to encourage or require remote work. With reports of greater employee satisfaction and engagement over the past year, the case in favor of continuing remote work has been strong. Now, Gartner has found that 74 percent of companies plan to shift at least a portion of their employees to remote work permanently.

As employees become increasingly reliant on technology to work, engage with one another, and access resources, employers have an emerging task ahead of them: creating a successful long-term virtual employee experience and engagement strategy. With new legislation requiring heightened health care cost transparency and additional changes on the horizon under the new administration, this access and engagement will become especially important as it relates to employees’ health care and benefits access. Here are a few things we recommend you take into consideration as you take your workforce virtual for good.

Don’t start with the technology

Strategy should drive your benefits technology toolset, not the other way around. To begin a complete and successful digital transformation of your employees’ health care and benefits experience, you need to first outline in detail the goals your organization wants to achieve. Ask questions like:

  • Where do we have technology gaps in how employees access and engage with their employer-sponsored benefits?
  • Which aspects of the employee benefits experience are we looking to simplify with technology?
  • In what ways do we want to improve employee engagement?
  • How can we leverage technology to better communicate health benefits information to our workforce?
  • In which areas did employees benefit most from in-person interaction, and how can we create an equally engaging experience for those areas virtually?
  • How can we obtain input from our workforce and ultimately align all business units around our goals?
  • What data and reporting needs to we have as a business to inform our strategy ongoing?

By taking this time to analyze the needs of your workforce and your organization’s objectives, you can begin your transformation process with a clear vision.

Align HR, IT and technology providers around the common goal

New digital tools and programs cannot be implemented in isolation. Your HR team should be at the forefront of discussions with your new technology and administration providers and in close contact with your IT team to ensure any new tools and platforms will closely match employee needs and your organization’s engagement goals.

In addition, implementing a virtual strategy, whether a full replacement or hybrid model, means the absence of in-office events and in-person interaction, which can be an adjustment for employees. In fact, a 2020 global study by Qualtrics SAP and Mind Share Partners found that more than 75 percent of employees reported feeling more socially isolated than before the outbreak. In addition, 66 percent also reported experiencing higher levels of stress since the outbreak. These challenges employees are facing heighten the need for a virtual employee experience that maintains empathy at its core. HR’s collaboration with your technology team and vendors can help ensure your digital experience feels human throughout.

Explore new omnichannel tools for a better employee experience

Two things to keep top of mind as you design your virtual employee benefits experience are ease and personalization. You want your employees to be able to engage and access their health care and benefit resources easily and efficiently, while still feeling like the overall experience is tailored to their unique needs. At times, striking a balance between these two areas can be a challenge. View this as an opportunity to expand your horizons and explore omnichannel tools and options you may not have previously considered.

A key example of this is the increased use of chatbots for employee benefits questions and other types of employee assistance in the last two years. Chatbots can fit seamlessly into employees’ virtual work arrangements, as they allow for easy, “anytime, anywhere” access to key information. However, although efficient and easy, chatbots may feel less personal in more complex situations. This makes it essential to couple the technology with the option to speak with a live service agent. Or, in the case of employee benefits, hosting a virtual fair or info session can allow employees the option of a more personal touch when they need it. Omnichannel experiences are essential for a virtual workforce, so be sure to develop a clear strategy around this early on.

Rely on data for ease and personalization

Technology tools and platforms that enable employees to access multiple essential resources will also be crucial in easing and simplifying their virtual employee experience. When exploring new technology and tools, focus on providers that offer strong data integration capabilities that can help streamline your employee experience. In general, data is expected to only become more important to ensuring personalization of digital platforms into the future, especially in the employee benefits and health care space. Working with the right providers to help you leverage your data in ways that support your employee experience and engagement plans will serve you and your employee population well as you go digital.

Engage your workforce with effective communication

Your virtual strategy and tools will only be a success if your workforce is truly invested in and engaged with it. As you progressively introduce new online tools and experiences throughout your virtual transformation, focus closely on how you are communicating these changes to your workforce. Employee communications during and post-pandemic should strive to do the following:

  • Always lead with empathy. With employees experiencing higher amounts of stress than usual, compassionate communication from their employer can go a long way.
  • Clearly tie any changes back to your organization’s mission and overarching vision for the employee experience.
  • Highlight how the new virtual tools and experiences are intended to foster a sense of community within your workforce.
  • Messages around employee benefits tools specifically should tie back to how they can help bring employees closer to their wellness goals, in a time where health is top of mind.
  • Encourage employees to provide feedback on changes, whether via a virtual engagement tool or other methods your organization may be using.

Following these guidelines can help to get your workforce aligned and on board with your employee experience goals. In fact, a well-aligned workplace culture has been found to improve productivity by as much as 25%. In addition, communicating in these ways can help you build trust, easing their transition to a fully virtual environment.

Change is a constant – reevaluate your strategy often

In this time of rapid transformation and increased dependence on health benefits and programs, your employee benefits experience and engagement strategy cannot stay stagnant. Your HR team should regularly reevaluate your strategy, whether that may be on a monthly or quarterly basis. In addition to any internal reviews, this should also involve updating your technology partners on your employees’ evolving needs, feedback, and organizational goals. Connect with them on how they are innovating and what features may be available to help you respond to your organization’s needs and the ever-changing environment. Making thoughtful changes and improvements in response to employee feedback, even if minor, can help your workforce feel more recognized and supported in a virtual environment.

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