woman at laptop in her home (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Jetsons got it all backwards. It wasn’t George taking the flying car to Spacely’s Space Sprockets, Inc. every day and Rosie the Robot maid minding the children. It should have been George home-schooling his children and running an internet-based business out of his den while Rosie and her mechanical peers toiled away at the factory.

Meet the new 21st century – same as the old 21st century. Don’t get fooled by the pandemic panic. What you’re witnessing is an acceleration of an evolution that was already happening.

Are 401(k) plan sponsors prepared for it?

We’ve been moving to a decentralized work environment ever since cell phones became self-aware more than a decade ago. Since then, companies have been easing their way into a work-from-anywhere 24/7 mode. This effort may offer some guidance to 401(k) plan sponsors, (see “COVID-19 Quarantine Question: How Should 401(k) Plan Sponsors Communicate to Employees Working From Home?” FiduciaryNews.com, March 17, 2020).

Except what had once been a slow trickle has now become a roaring rush. The coronavirus quarantine has forced many businesses to figure out a way to allow their employees to work from home – if they want to stay in business.

This is actually the upside of an information-based economy. In more labor-intensive industries, we are seeing business grinding to a halt. Witness what’s happening in the restaurant, hospitality and leisure industries.

Companies whose products and services can be created and delivered remotely stand a better chance of continuing operations through any quarantine period. Businesses (like SEC-registered investment advisers) that are required to have off-site contingency plans have the logistics in place for remote based employment.

For essential day-to-day operations.

But what about their employee benefits like the company sponsored 401(k) plan? Employers that rely heavily on their parties or who are members of 401(k) MEPs are more likely to already have remote 401(k) employee servicing options available to them.

But even if a company does have these web-based options now, there’s a good chance they’re still depending on legacy systems and procedures for some important aspects of their 401(k) plan. For example, how many companies still use in-person meetings for enrollment and education?

What we have now is an opportunity to streamline 401(k) services, education, and, ultimately, behavior.

We all know it’s better to meet someone face-to-face than it is to telephone them. But what about Facetiming or Skyping them? Hey, if it working in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it means we’re only about 19 years too late.

And what about that old nineteenth century classroom school model? Why not return to classical times? Weren’t Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle known for their teaching skills? And didn’t they excel at one-on-one instruction?

OK, so it was also face-to-face, but you can take care of that by using the same technology described above.

Finally, these streamlined remote-based methods can more immediately address the concerns of retirement savers.

And wouldn’t that lead to better behavior?