12 Tips for Leaders on how to Improve Engagement During COVID

By: Jennifer Card, M.Sc.


One of the most challenging concerns, if not a worry, for leaders during this prolonged COVID-heist is how to keep their teams engaged. Engagement starts with authentic conversations, just like the kind we used to have in-person. Although virtual office-ing has its perks, we are missing the human connections that we used to experience, from quick chats on the elevator or at the espresso machine. Those momentary, and impromptu, chats offered personal anecdotes into how the other is doing, REALLY doing. While it is more challenging to conjure deeper conversations through virtual meetings, Leaders can improve the personal quality of their touch-points through the following simple techniques:

  • Start the meetings with a ‘check-in’ and with the intention to really hear the Team. Make a space for them to speak up. e.g. “Tell me how you are feeling?” Remember, asking someone how they are feeling versus how they are doing, are separate questions. Someone could be feeling quite stressed, but generally doing ok. Start the conversation with your own authentic sharing in order to set the tone.
  • Don’t rush to fill any conversational silences….sometimes silence is the moment right before a quieter voice feels ok to speak-up.
  • Use affect labelling to provide permission for the Team to say how they really feel – affect labelling (Torre & Lieberman, 2018) involves naming the emotion e.g. “I sense some stress here today “
  • Don’t start your inquiry with a leading question e.g.- “how are you doing, good?” – because that doesn’t leave the space for Team members to tell you how they really feel.
  • Allow the Team to feel / express opposing emotions, e.g. start the inquiry space with something like “Am sure this has been both challenging and an opportunity with respect to work/life balance…which way does the scale tip for you?”
  • Check in with the Team’s level of self-care …e.g. “How are you leaning into self-care for yourself? What healthy habits do you have? How are you leaning away from self-care during COVID?”
  • Check-in to ensure that the Team is distancing themselves from work at the end of the day. e.g “How do you physically remove yourself from your home office every day?” and “do you have a boundary line to stop work each day?” – and on this note, Lead by example.
  • Finish the meetings with a solution-focused question in case the conversation has been predominately negative, start to guide them back to something they can do…
  • Be aware of your own emotions/moods before you start the meetings so that you don’t influence the conversation, be as neutral as possible. I recommend engaging in a brief 3-minute meditation beforehand – it will help you to tune-up all of your listening skills and increase your ability to be present.
  • If a Team member is not open to talking, don’t force it – we don’t always know what others are going through….also, arrive armed with a resource, perhaps an external coach, so that they can meet with someone outside the organization to talk with.
  • Compliment them, encourage them, but ensure that it is authentic, also be specific…e.g. “This hasn’t been easy, but I see you are really putting forward your best efforts, in fact, I noticed that you added that great idea to the last report”.
  • Don’t be surprised if you see some emotion from Team members during more authentic check-ins, and don’t rush to close it down. Just wait patiently for them process it a bit…you aren’t there to fix their emotion, you are only there to truly hear them, and let them share with you as their leader.


Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling as implicit emotion regulation. Emotion Review10(2), 116-124.