How Nonprofits Can Foster More Meaningful Virtual Engagement With Their Employees

By YW Boston

2020 was a year that many nonprofits experienced a new and unexpected transition into partially remote or completely remote work. As we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic and grapple with increasing social unrest, including the recent violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it is as important as ever to prioritize practicing empathy with our employees and colleagues. As we begin the year 2021, it’s important for organizations to re-examine their expectations for employees to continue conducting business as usual. Leaders must allow time for employees to process the impact of such uncertainty in their lives. When having any work-related virtual meetings, nonprofit leaders and supervisors can adjust their practices to foster more meaningful virtual engagement. Keeping employees engaged in online spaces is critical to staying socially connected while physically distant. Here are some things to consider when interacting with your employees using digital mediums.

Redefine (virtual) employee engagement

Employee engagement has transformed in the virtual space. First, let’s define what we mean by “virtual engagement.” Virtual engagement refers to all and any employee interactions that occur online, whether those are “live” and synchronous, such as video conference or voice call, or asynchronous, such as chat or emails.

Account for, and normalize, distractions

In the online realm, active and passive engagement appear a bit differently. It’s important not to confuse passive engagement with active resistance. While someone may have their camera off during a video call, for instance, that does not mean they are not fully engaged. As employees juggle new variables such as sharing their remote workspaces, increased caregiving responsibilities, and other challenges arising from working remotely during a pandemic and political crisis, employers must remain flexible and empathetic during this time.

Continuously gauge engagement and adjust accordingly

Measuring virtual engagement is a necessary step for readjusting and making modifications that will improve the quality of your interactions. As a meeting facilitator, check in with participants to see how they are feeling, what their energy level is like, and to learn whether they feel prepared for the meeting or virtual presentation they are about to participate in. If you are providing new information, be sure to check for understanding. And at the end of the meeting, check in again to see if people’s disposition or feelings have changed, and to see if they want to provide any feedback. Make note of your own observations, such as how many people participated, how often did people participate, did anyone seem to dominate the conversation, and so on.

Practice and improve your virtual facilitation skills

As a leader or supervisor, you have a responsibility to foster more meaningful engagement during virtual meetings. It’s a good practice to familiarize yourself with virtual platforms before facilitating or participating in a meeting. As much as possible, avoid troubleshooting during a meeting or presentation. If necessary, host a practice run, review a tutorial, or identify a virtual assistant who can help you. You must also commit to facilitation and be present by minimizing as many distractions as possible. Turn off email and other notifications, silence your phone, maximize the virtual meeting to full screen, etc. Practice active listening. Acknowledge people when they speak, make “eye contact” by looking at your webcam, nod or provide reaffirmations via chat, etc.


About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at