Q&A with Polly Thomas



Thomas is with CBIZ Benefits and Insurance and serves as president of CBIZ's Kansas City Employee Benefits Division.

"Interestingly, though, I think this experience will change open enrollment forever. The feedback so far from employees is they feel that these virtual solutions are more private and allow more personalized conversations."

Q: Given what we’ve seen in 2020, especially with the big shift to remote working for so many employees, can you tell us a bit about the biggest challenges your clients have seen in the run-up to this enrollment period?

A: With so many so employees working remotely, it’s been figuring out to how to deliver open enrollment with the same level of experience; companies are having to get creative. We have a number of clients that have done open-enrollment fairs and set up call centers, where employees can call one-on-one to ask questions. There’s been a lot more video technology to communicate vs. in-person meetings.

Q: Why is that an issue? Aren’t employees getting the same kind of information delivered to them?

A: Yes, but it’s because employees are so used to having those in-person meetings to communicate. Some people are historically reticent to talk about their health benefits with specific questions; they view their health-care decisions as pretty personally. Interestingly, though, I think this experience will change open enrollment forever. The feedback so far from employees is they feel that these virtual solutions are more private and allow more personalized conversations. It has also allowed them to include spouses in the decision, and they are able to get the same information. An in-person meeting between an employee and an employer is not the same.

 

Q: Has the move to more remote working presented any issues that employers should consider with their benefits structures?

A: There are a couple of things here. You have to connect in different ways. We are social beings by nature, and there’s only so much online Zoom or Go to Meeting you can tolerate in a day. So they are spending time, making sure they’re connecting via phone or otherwise to keep that morale up, finding ways to get creative in how to do that. The other is rethinking space needs. I think for many companies, ourselves included, it has taught us that we might not need the same space we once did. People enjoy the flexibility of being able to work remotely.

 

Q: Are you finding that companies have gone too far with the remote working, where they’re losing some of their corporate culture because of the dissociation?

A: That’s a concern especially in work that involves teams—it still requires collaboration. Some of that human element needs to be there. Are ways to still foster that? Absolutely. The simplest things, if be remote work, you’re going to be on camera so your team can see your body language and read facial expressions, some way to get some human connections. For us, what we’re trying to do is have people reach out for no reason once a day to a handful of colleagues, just to keep that communication open. It’s a way to stay connected.

 

Q: With Millennials now accounting for more than half the U.S. work force, are there any new generational issues emerging?

A: With the Millennials, and the Gen-Z who are now working, when you think about the things that work, they absolutely embrace technology and aren’t afraid of learning new tech—that is great. They are willing to be teachers of tech, and they have helped some of our longer-tenured associates embrace and get comfortable with tech—they are the experts to help figure out how do things. On the flip side, those tenured associates enjoy teaching about the business side of things, the things you really learn with time and experience. They focus on, “Hey I can help with this, you can focus on that, so we can make good team.”