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COVID-19 Quarantine Question: How Should 401k Plan Sponsors Communicate to Employees Working From Home?

COVID-19 Quarantine Question: How Should 401k Plan Sponsors Communicate to Employees Working From Home?
March 17
00:03 2020

It’s starting to happen. City by city, county by county, state by state, businesses are deciding to tell their employees to work from home. Will social distancing lead to a more permanent role for telecommuting in the workplace?

There are certainly advantages for both the employee and the employer when it comes to working remotely. One of the disadvantages, however, is the lack of ease of communicating that exists when working proximity is reduced. You simply can’t shut over the cubicle to get your coworkers attention.

For retirement plan sponsors, communication is not merely a form of social interaction, it’s a fiduciary duty. How does the change in work location impact this duty? And what can 401k plan sponsors do about it? That the times are trying only makes it harder.

“Most people are on email but during this special circumstance I would find out what the client’s preference for communication is and then offer them the option of email, web conference calls, or phone check ins,” says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, Wealth Psychology Expert and Author at KBK Wealth Connection in Waitsfield, Vermont. “Everyone is stressed with the uncertainty and giving them a little sense of control goes a long way.”

Regular and consistent communication can often reduce the stress associated with a sudden change in work routine. “Retirement plan sponsors can communicate to employees working from home through email, video chat, phone calls, and inter-office messaging platforms, such as Slack,” says Julie Bee, President, BeeSmart Social Media in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The key is to overcommunicate during times of uncertainty for retirement plan sponsors.”

Not only are employees stressed, but for those not used to constantly communicating electronically, the process can be overwhelming. In this way, overcommunicating can have the opposite effect that was intended.

“Retirement plan sponsors, like the rest of the world, can send out emails with the company’s response to the current news, but since everyone is doing that right now, working people are being deluged with ‘A message from our CEO’ types of messages right now,” says Darla DeMorrow, author, and owner of HeartWork Organizing, LLC in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “Consider whether there is anything new, newsworthy, or particularly helpful before adding one more email to an already overloaded client mailbox.”

Some employees find too much communication irritating, distracting, and ineffective if not done correctly. “I appreciate direct, succinct, authentic email communications,” says David Felfoldi, Digital Transformation Strategist for SHERPA Global in Atlanta, Georgia. “I’m annoyed by the communications that include meaningless filler like ‘abundance of caution.’ Get to the point — what do I need to know? What do I need to do? Be specific.”

The key here, then, is for 401k plan sponsors to utilize the vendors they’re already using. The challenge is to connect those service providers directly to home-based employees.

“Trust in your financial consultants and advisors to communicate about fund activities,” says Terry M. Isner, CEO/Owner of Jaffe in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “Have HR set up direct communication lines with those managing retirement funds.”

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Once the nature, purpose, and key deliverer of communication have been identified, the next question is what form of media can best be used. “Retirement plan sponsors will often be able to communicate in the same manner they always have when working with remote employees,” says Jordan Brannon, President of Coalition Technologies in Los Angeles, California. “Email, chat, phone calls, etc, are not only commonplace in office, they work well for remote too.”

But those traditional means of communication may not yield the same results with remote workers. “Retirement plan sponsors should communicate to employees working from home by using video versus emails, IM and telephone,” says David Lewis is President, CEO, and Founder of OperationsInc in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Those who watch remote workforces’ overtime can see the remote teams become disengage with the team. They then fight a battle of concern of disengagement. Dealing with the population of people who deal without working in front of one another can go a long way with keeping the team cohesive.”

Of particular note, companies that have in the past relied on face-to-face or group meeting may find the road ahead a little more bumpy than desired. Fortunately, technological solutions exist. If you do rely predominantly on in-person meetings, “then switch to services such as Zoom, Skype or Maestroconference,” says Andrea Travillian, President of Aspirify, Inc in Frisco, Texas.

With the large influx of employees working from home, telecommuting may be here to stay. Companies need to rethink how they’ve addressed 401k communications in the past. One never knows when the “new” normal will appear.

“Retirement plan sponsors should create a strategic plan that caters to employees working from home,” says Miriam Cruz, Founder of Miriam Speaks in San Jose, California. “They should focus on businesses that are being run in homes.”

Christopher Carosa is a keynote speaker, journalist, and the author of  401(k) Fiduciary SolutionsHey! What’s My Number? How to Improve the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort, From Cradle to Retirement: The Child IRA, and several other books on innovative retirement solutions, practical business tips, and the history of the wonderful Western New York region. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

 

Mr. Carosa is available for keynote speaking engagements, especially in venues located in the Northeast, MidAtantic and Midwestern regions of the United States and in the Toronto region of Canada.

About Author

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

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