It’s summertime, which means the year is half over. While you’re enjoying the warm weather, it’s also time to start thinking about the next season. No, not autumn. Open enrollment season. It will be here before you know it, and the time to start preparing has begun. Here are four key steps to take now.

Step One: Reflect on Last Year

Ideally, you will already have spent some time assessing last year’s open enrollment period. You may have conducted a survey to get feedback from employees and written up a report on what went well and what didn’t. That’s great.

Some time has passed, however, and with it comes perspective. Now that you’re fully recovered from the stress of open enrollment, you can reflect on the process again, this time with some distance between you and the events.

There were probably some things you could have done better. According to Employee Benefit Adviser, around half of employees describe open enrollment as always stressful, and more than a third say it’s confusing. Are you doing any better?

Consider how to improve this year’s experience. Clear communication is key. Benefits can be overwhelming, so communicate information in small, easy-to-digest chunks, and do it often using a range of tools.

Step Two: Determine the Benefit Audiences

When you think about open enrollment, you probably think about active employees. They’re the easiest to remember because they show up to the company every day, but they’re not the only benefit audience to consider.

You also need to think about retirees who are entitled to benefits. And don’t forget COBRA participants, including former employees and their dependents, as well as individuals on leave. Because these groups are out of sight – and therefore, as the saying goes, out of mind – they can easily slip through the cracks.

Next January, you don’t want these groups asking you why they never got to make a benefits selection. Make sure you know who needs information and how your going to communicate it.

Step Three: Create a Schedule

Open enrollment seems a long way off right now, but if you don’t start planning, it could take you by surprise. Create a calendar now. When do you need paperwork and communication tools ready? When will you announce open enrollment? When will you hold meetings?

Decide these things now – so the answer to your question is never “a week ago.”

Step Four: Automate Direct Bill Processes

Remember how busy you were last open enrollment season? Well, the coming season will be just as bad. If you have more employees to deal with, or more plan offerings, it could be worse. To avoid a headache, you need to simplify as many things as possible.

One way to accomplish this is by automating direct bill processes for retirees and other individuals who make direct payments. This is a great way to streamline the payment process, giving you one less thing to remember (or possibly forget).

Travisoft automates direct billing and open enrollment for COBRA participants. Request a demo to learn more.