It is no secret: Companies that invest in their human capital--their people--see economic growth, productivity, and profitability. But to see the return on their people investment, leaders must bring out the best in their employees.

Easier said than done. Because this prospect requires leaders also to be at their best. The simple but hard truth remains: Leadership effectiveness starts with leaders empowering the human workers they serve. 

In 2021, you can start with three approaches that will work in your favor, as a leader. 

1. Connect like humans.

According to Upwork, remote work has seen an 87-percent increase since before the pandemic. Grappling with how to run a remote company in the new normal, many leaders neglect one important success factor: company culture.

To make virtual communities more human and engaging, leaders must avoid the trap of seeing their distant, virtual employees as cogs in a virtual machine merely getting the job done to their bosses' marching orders.

Finding a way to incorporate social gatherings and water-cooler moments where teams can connect as humans rather than employees is important, for both employee mental health and high performance. 

While video right now is king, we've learned that it can cause fatigue. What we're missing now is putting more investment into building community, through an organic sense of connection and collaboration in the virtual workplace.

2. Get outside.

Speaking of video fatigue, endless Zoom meetings have us tethered to our home-office desks staring at our computers for hours. How about a change of scenery, literally?

"Take your meetings on the road with you: Walk and talk on the phone, and leave the webcam at home," advises Charles Delingpole, founder and CEO of global data and tech company ComplyAdvantage.

Delingpole shared with me: "I really believe in the power of walking meetings. Even before Covid-19, I would take people out to coffee and catch up over a few blocks," he says. "Now our team members try to take calls at local parks, on fire escapes, or on a walk around the block." 

3. Openly discuss mental health.

Leaders must take into account the insurmountable stress and anxiety employees have felt stemming from the pandemic. A recent study found that 53 percent of American adults reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted, due to worry and stress related to Covid-19.

Mental health will be serious business even as vaccines are widely rolled out post-pandemic. If you haven't done enough as a leader to address mental health for your company, consider doing something about it. A good starting point to battle the effects of the pandemic is to create safe spaces for people to speak up and express their most-felt needs, at work and in their personal lives.