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Virtual Benefit Fairs for Post-Pandemic Workplace | Keenan

July 08, 2021 by Jeffrey Mizokawa

In the many months that COVID-19 prohibited gatherings and face-to-face contact, some employers found novel ways to conduct their annual employee benefits fairs virtually. Much like staff meetings became Zoom meetings, the virtual benefit fair became a new kind of online event. Because they are powered by platforms utilizing the Internet, participants and presenters were able to access the benefit fairs from almost anywhere they could get a good, secure wi-fi signal.

An unexpected result of implementing these virtual fairs was that employers discovered higher participation, stronger engagement and often lower expense. Employees typically found it easier to attend the events, especially for those who work at different sites, and were better able to accommodate the connection at a time convenient to their schedules.

Virtual benefit fairs are conducted on platforms used to simulate large, live gatherings such as conferences, conventions and trade shows. Health plans and other vendors set up “booths” in an exhibit area to interact with attendees, branded just as they appear at a live event. Video presentations can be conducted live, prerecorded, or recorded sessions can be combined with live Q&A. The platforms enable one-on-one interactions with either video or text chat functions so employees can speak directly with plan representatives or human resources. Documents, brochures and other material are easily distributed into each attendee’s “swag bag,” a virtual briefcase for downloaded files. Savings versus printing and shipping paper documents is significant.

Events can be scaled to a wide range of attendee numbers and they can even be set up for access any hour of the day or night. This flexibility was much more convenient for employees working evening or overnight shifts, or for anyone who preferred to use the platform outside their work hours. Spouses and partners of employees also took part more readily.

Most virtual fair platforms serve multiple devices, from desktop and laptop computers, tablets to mobile smartphones. While live interaction may be limited to certain hours of the day, recorded presentations, downloads and question submission for later email responses can be available 24/7, and even after the conclusion of the scheduled benefit fair dates. Much of the content and functionality can even be maintained for new hire and recruiting purposes.

Enhanced capabilities for a virtual benefit fair may include vendor drawings for giveaways to attendees, online scavenger hunts, and incentives toward employee wellness programs (within regulatory requirements, of course). The online nature of these events also allows you to collect reporting to measure participation and other indicators to compare to your goals. In addition, some virtual event platforms permit you to conduct employee surveys, so you can gather feedback on the benefit fair, the employee benefit program, and other organization aspects you want to evaluate.

A virtual benefit fair still requires the same advanced planning and coordination with insurers, plans and other vendors that you’d do for an in-person fair. You may consider cost-sharing or “booth rental” arrangements with the various exhibitors to pay for all or most of the virtual platform to conduct your benefit fair. With the savings they realize from eliminating printing, shipping and travel costs, they will probably be more than happy to cover the online expenses.

A number of our clients in the past year found that they could still conduct a successful benefit fair for their employees in spite of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. What they learned from doing it, they will be using to continue a virtual model and improve the participants’ experience. Some employers are experimenting with a hybrid – live and virtual – event for the upcoming open enrollment. If the advantages discussed in this article could help make your benefit fair a better resource for your employees, take a closer look at how a virtual platform could improve it.


Jeffrey Mizokawa
Jeffrey Mizokawa works with the Employee Benefits and Keenan Financial Services teams to develop strategic plans for schools across the state. He has been working with California public agencies for more than 10 years.