November 13, 2023

Authors of “Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace”

Dana Bernardino

1Huddle Podcast Episode #115

On this episode of the Bring It In podcast, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder, Sam Caucci, sat down with Anna Tavis and Stela Lupushor, authors of Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace. Anna Tavis is a clinical professor and Academic Director of the Human Capital Management department at NYU School of Professional Studies. Stela Lupushor is the founder of and also teaches Digital Workplace Design and Design Thinking at NYU’s School of Professional Studies.

The authors discuss the importance of improving HR for the future of work. In addition, they talked about how technology should be utilized not only to make jobs more efficient, but also to improve the wellbeing of employees. Anna and Stela emphasize that technology should make work more enjoyable. Employees who are fond of their job creates an outcome far larger than using technology to improve efficiency.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.


Below are some of the insights Anna and Stela shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “We need to think of HR as a sense and response system.” 
  • “Coaching is going to be the future of management.” 
  • “A lot of tech is used to make things more efficient, but not to make the experience better.”

Sam Caucci: Maybe we will start with getting some quick backgrounds on yourselves and maybe we can start with you, Anna. 

Anna Tavis: Okay, cool. I am academic director, department chair of human capital management programs. And after a career at fortune 50 companies, and having emerged out of the financial crisis. Having worked on Wall Street, I ran to the academia and decided to dedicate myself to growing the next generation HR. And one of the things that frustrated me about our profession was that it wasn’t particularly future focused. So what could I do as an educator to kind of help shape that innovative people function going forward?

And in my role at NYU, I was able to create what I consider really very forward looking programs. We have a human capital analytics and technology program focused on using data and technology with responsibility up as it applies to people management and executive coaching, organizational consulting.

We are the 1st program in the country that educates with the masters and science degree coaches. We believe that coaching is going to be the future of management in general, not just HR. And clearly we have the foundational program for HR. So at this point in my career, I dedicate myself to research on future work and then translating it into an educational path for the next generation leaders.

Stela Lupushor: And similarly to Anna, my name is Stella Luposhor. I’m also involved in the academia. I’m an adjunct in the Human Capital Analytics and Technology program that Anna just referred to. In addition to that, I work, I consult on workplace experience through the use of technology and analytics. And similarly to Anna, I come from a corporate, large corporate background.

I did a lot of technology implementation. Process and service delivery, transformation,  strategy work for HR and along the way there was all these analytics components since I come from a technical and quantitative background. So analytics was  also a part of my vocabulary and I led the analytics, people analytics practices at a couple of financial institutions.

Thrilled to be here. 

Sam Caucci: Great. Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace. Anna, why’d you both come together to write the book?

Anna Tavis: You know we partnered because we kind of bring complimentary skills to this project. My focus was mostly on employee experience from the humanistic perspective.

And I dove into philosophy and history and kind of brought tried to with a broad brushstroke paint a picture that what we are experiences is an an evolution of human history from, you know, from Plato, literally from, from the Greeks and the Romans and the Stoics. And then looking at the importance of reentering that connection with work that I felt we’ve been losing along the way as technology started to come in.

At the same time, I am very aware how practitioners at this point in industrial history approach, work and that Stella Stella’s expertise in technology and her ability to break it down and translate what I was trying to communicate and bigger concepts into specific, you know, practical deliverable elements and create models applications.

And she can talk about it herself. You know, I felt that that was an important juncture for us to join on and produce something that will be valuable both from, you know, the conceptual big strategic and humanitarian perspective, as well as very practical from the application and day to day function of any organization. Stela? 

Stela Lupushor: Yep. So, the aspect where the components that I was able to bring to this incredible project and accomplishment is the frameworks and ways to rethink how the workforce, workplace and worth is changing. And how might we as HR practitioners, as technology experts, as analytics professionals can help the organization look at the work that needs to get done in a slightly different way. And as a result unleash the potential for the workforce or re-imagine what the workplace experience might look like and make it in a way that speaks to the business leaders,  makes in a way that does not disrupt the possibilities the value the company creates.

And instead it, it creates new sources of talent. It creates more equitable and more inclusive work environment and uses technology to bring not only transparency, but also efficiency and, delight and fun. 

Sam Caucci: I have so many questions. So I hope that’s okay. 

Anna Tavis: Absolutely. 

Sam Caucci: We can fight over them.

But Anna early on in the book, something you talked about, you know, I had never realized maybe the origin, but was the conversation around McKinsey study titled the War for Talent. And you know when you really hear it the way you talked about it you’re like, yes those are pretty heavy words and words matter. And when you start using the word talent and then you start calling it a war for and when Mckinsey does it then everybody follows given who they are.

I guess you speak a little bit to, you know, the language we use when we talk about workers, especially in human resources professionals. And again, I found that really intriguing. 

Anna Tavis: Sam, it’s such a good point. You know, my undergraduate degree was in linguistics. I started out as a linguist, so I have a particular, I pay particular attention to the use of words and terminology, and obviously it all became brands in how we brand what we do.

And that’s what gets into the ecosystem and people are reusing the words, et cetera, and how it starts to affect what we actually do, right? And there’s obviously so much interesting research in neuroscience right now in cognitive science and behavioral science that are coming into economics and then beginning to influence technology and everything else.

In fact, my thesis is that technology as we know it now is just a snapshot, a historical snapshot. It will go on to be reconnecting with the most kind of human qualities of what who the humans are. So anyway, and, you know, I think we’ve built a whole generation of business managers on some false assumptions or maybe false interpretations. Because you anytime you go back to the text, like, for example, Milton Friedman, you know, who is now, who used to be the most venerable economist in the world and Nobel Prize, et cetera, et cetera. And now we’re looking back and saying shareholder value, you know, and how powerful those particular concepts have been. And now we are trying to slowly disconnect from that way of thinking and the same thing with the wall for talent.

You know, it really was probably the first time, Sam, that we realized the impact of randing what we do with humans. And then putting it in circulation. It’s almost like a precursor to the social media effects that we see now. And then obviously we code these concepts in the hardwired way into all the tech tools and analytics, because, you know, again, we’re worshiping analytics and technology right now, but we’re beginning to realize that those are just the artifacts of multiple, you know, ways we do things  as humans. 

So the data are human artifacts, that’s what I’m saying. It’s just expressed in a different way. So that’s where, you know, I kind of took that  point in history when McKinsey, the most, at that time, the most influential consulting firm in the world. And I actually did work with them on this particular project when I was working for Motorola in my  first corporate job. How that kind of became what we understood to be good people management and how flawed it was.

And I think it’s very important for us to have that critical mindset because again of that power of technology that we currently have that just hardwired stuff that is actually not very good for us. And so I am delighted to see that now we’re moving away from that language, we no longer talk about talent, we talk about people.

And you can see even human resource functions being renamed into employee experience functions or people experience functions, and kind of democratizing the whole idea of people management. And that’s why I felt that it’s very important to bring that point through in the book and not just end up with showing the latest models and the latest data points about what’s happening in the current work environment.

Stela Lupushor: I want to add a few topics on the topic of language, because I think we have designed the world in the work environment that not only technology automates and creates, inequities and creates, potential for discrimination, but It is shaping how we perceive ourselves and how we behave. So there was a lot of debate that Anna and I had about even the word people or definition of workforce, because we call people employees and play experience.

And increasingly more and more of us go, so preneurs pursue gig economy, part time work. All of that excludes those segments from a lot of the programs that we design from a lot of the opportunities that we offer. So in a way, being an employee, it’s already a privilege that comes with a lot more benefits and perks and HR support than the rest of the workforce.

So for us, languages of an important component that we look at the workforce in a holistic way. Since we have workforces of different kinds of, and including digital labor, that’s part of the workforce. It gets the work done. So how we work and co-exist next to each other matters. 

The workplace, that’s another broader, more inclusive, conversation because it’s not just the office space or the working from home. Workspace it’s a lot more expansive than just those physical and digital realms. And it’s really describing where the people get the work done and that can be co working space that can be on an island that can be in your, on your device, as long as you have all the equipment and the tools and the access to everything that you need to perform the work done, regardless of the physical space you occupy.

So I think when we start unpacking a lot of things that constitute our work environment. We have a lot of opportunity to not only redesign and use technology differently and be more responsible in creating analytics dashboards or whatever solutions, but also how we articulate what they charge us and how we support the activity of getting the work done.

Sam Caucci: Stela I want to ask you about technology. Again, taking the point that was just made about language. Over the years coming in and out of different organizations and looking at the way they the way people budget things tell you tells you how they prioritize stuff, right? You know, and you see We’re even seeing it right now in this moment of, are we in a recession?

Is a recession coming? And you’re seeing where the layoffs are. Amazon just laid off thousands of workers. They fell into two camps, human resources, frontline retail. And it feels like that’s obviously a common trend. And I want to ask you about how technology can play a role in this moment where oftentimes it’s human resources. And you talk to business leaders and they say, you know, that’s the first thing that goes, it was the first, it was in many ways, the first thing that went during COVID, which is why so many companies struggled to hire workers back.

You know, they let go of the units responsible for coaching, development, identification. So what are the opportunities of technology, in a moment where budgets just continuously get cut in this area? And the solution selected may not always be the ones that are best for every worker. 

Stela Lupushor: I love this question. And I think a lot of times we look at the technology as a solution to problems. Well, we’ll automate, therefore we can cut costs, human costs, or we’ll put, you know, robots in place. 

Sam Caucci: ChatGPT. We’ve got ChatGPT now. 

Stela Lupushor: ChatGPT, exactly. You name whatever it is. As opposed to looking at the technology as an enabler.

To create more capacity for humans to get their work done and it’s so sad to hear all the layoffs that are impacting HR, and even more dramatic is to hear that companies are laying off their DEI departments and resources. Like, really? It’s the first one to go. However, I think when we look through the lens of technology at the opportunities, it’s really to create a better workplace experience.

If you think about how technology changed our interaction and how we consume products and how we engage those brands, everything is designed to eliminate the friction between. Our, you know,  activity and our decision to make that purchasing click. Why can’t we have a similar type of experience at work?

A lot of technologies are being built there to automate certain processes and make the process more efficient, but not create a better experience. So we have systems that don’t talk to each other. We have data that are not normalized. We have, inefficient, processes that are enabled by technology that now makes bad processes faster.

So if we were to use the human centricity and create that experience for the workers so they can be better at what they do or do the things better and faster, then everybody will benefit. And probably in most cases, companies will get a lot more out of the worker and increase the productivity and not have to lay off anyone.

But it requires a very different way of engaging. IT departments and digital. It requires a different mentality for HR to advocate on behalf of the workers, and it requires a, of course, a different set of justification for why this investment matters because if you invest in people. All of that will come back and in space for your customers as well as for your bottom line.

And I don’t know, you have probably 

Anna Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, one of the things I think is very important to keep in mind and what gives me hope is a lot of research that’s happening in neuroscience and behavioral sciences, etc. And even the whole question of frictionless life isn’t thrown into into question, right?

Like, what kinds of frictions do we really need as humans? I was just looking at some latest research on something like microbiome, the ecosystem of microbes and now intestines, et cetera, et cetera, very popular health topic these days. And by creating frictionless and cleaning out and creating all the products that are industrially produced and very efficiently produced, you know, we’re actually basically exterminating ourselves as a species because we’ve been developed to be, you know, to coexist with certain level of challenge.

Or after the pandemic an example after the pandemic, why do we have this triple epidemic right now, with all of these diseases coming back? It’s Because we spent two years isolated or China is a good example, zero carbon and didn’t expose ourselves to challenges.

So on the one hand, and this is where I think the whole concept of technology we cannot move forward with technology without understanding the true impact from the, you know, again, neuroscience perspective, the biology perspective, physiology, everything, those sciences have to be developed along with technology.

We gave the whole power of designing workplace or creating our social networks, or even running our, you know, governments, etc to technologists right now our CEOs of social networks. make political decisions on behalf of the entire world, right? So I think this is, I think we are just coming to the point where we are realizing the limitations of worshiping technology as a God that was going to save us from ourselves.

Now, I think we need to turn it around and make it human and say, no, we have to slow down. And the whole decision about what few, the future of technology, including the workplace is going to look like it’s going to be a very diverse group of creators that needs to come together to understand the actual impact of what’s being designed.

Because as we all know, from all the conversations we hear our environment is being affected and you know, GPD growth is growth, is the goal for us. As we are now tossing out shareholder value, at least theoretically, economists all agree on this is GPD the right measure of human flourishing.

And the same thing for the workplace. And I do think that there are very thoughtful leaders and my example of this will be Satya Nadella from Microsoft, who actually grew up in–  and look at the pedigree there he followed Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs right now is the biggest philanthropist in the world.

But when he was a CEO, he was the opposite of that, right? He was very much focused on the business, et cetera, et cetera. Then Obama came after him, who was even more, you know, deterministic about how the business needed to be done. Bill Gates. Yes. Sorry. Sorry. Steve. So sorry. Sorry. Bill Gates. Right. Bill Gates.

And then Satya Nadella comes along with a very different background, and turns the company around 180%, basically showing to everyone that it is possible to do in the workplace. It is possible to build accessibility, inclusion, and other types of thing valuable, you know, assets into technology that Microsoft as a technology company creates.

So I’m very passionate about it. And that’s where I’m in– I apologize. Steve Jobs actually is a, is a visionary who I really respect very much as, as much as Bill Gates. But I think there’s an opportunity for us there to be rethinking holistically. And that’s how the book came about. And that’s what was so helpful for me to have those conversations with with Stella coming from computer background technology background and myself with what I bring to the table as a linguist and primarily as a talent leader in organizations.

Sam Caucci: There’s a bunch of highlights that I had as I went through that they were very punchy. You know, there’s no work without a worker. HR has got to be employee first, not employer first. Work is not working. Concept of being stakeholder first for a shareholder first. Let’s play like a game here for a second.

You know, there’s organizations who are out there that are trying to think about how they Organize themselves to create the right work environments for their people, which also means that their people are continuously developing means they’re not churning workers. It means that Maybe the back of house person can someday work in the front of the house in the front of house person can someday on the American dream that you can start low and move up through the workforce.

Unfortunately, oftentimes doesn’t happen. How should if a if a CEO is listening? What are your recommendations for how to construct a human, and again, I’ll say human resource just for a placeholder, because we talked about repositioning it, but for the part of the operation that is responsible for what’s traditionally human resources, how would we construct that to be most effective long term?

I’m going to just say one more thing. Because it seems like when I look at a lot of organizations and you double click on human resources and you might go down a path and look at the person in charge of training or learning and development, and they’re not always classically trained in the cognitive science area you mentioned that they are responsible for. They’re oftentimes best person who’s, you know, they survived the storms, and now they are put into this position that Again, a very important position out of the training coaching, but maybe they don’t have the coaching themselves to be successful. So the overall question, how should we construct HR knowing that sometimes feels like the people that are put into those roles, maybe aren’t yet equipped to be successful.

Anna Tavis: They should definitely come to NYU to get their HR credentials. That’s for sure. You know, the quick answer to that, Sam, is that HR it has been professionalizing significantly. And if you look at the highest performing organizations, you do see cognitive scientists, computer scientists, data scientists, specializing in the workplace. a psychologist and 

Not every HR person should be credentialed. But the teams of specialists are being brought in  the advisory role used to be that organizations outsource these expertise, they would have a more administrative role on the inside and then the CEO would be engaging with consultants.

That’s kind of how it used to be set up. And I think more and more companies realize that they can’t outsource their culture. They can’t outsource the care of their people. And so being mindful about who their HR, at least HR leaders are, and create that diversity on the team of specialties. There’s no longer just a kind of generic HR person.

There are lots of specialties and, and I would say HR probably is the most diversified function because you get everyone from HRS, people who are looking after technology systems, AI specialists these days. And you will get comp and benefits. You are going to get wellness. You’re going to have psychologists who are going to be looking after EAP, employee assistant programs, etc.

Wellbeing is now in the HR space, etc. So they’re hiring nurses and people who really can look after those types of needs human needs. And so it’s a very diverse function. And I think that a mindful CEO who understands the importance of people for themselves will absolutely staff and design their HR organizations in a very, very different way than just a convenient, you know, assistant, administrative assistant who just been around for a long time and is a nice guy who you can promote to the head of HR.

I think those days are in the majority of cases are gone. Even in the smaller organizations, people are aware of the importance of that function. But I’m definitely biased Stella. What is your view?

Stela Lupushor: I completely agree with that. And I think we think of HR more as a risk management function, right? It helps the company protect itself, puts the practices in place, helps things be operational, respect the regulatory requirements, report on to the EOC.

So the things that classically were being taught and expected from personnel. I think we’re moving into a lot more complex world where we have a variety of worker segments. We need to engage with variety of technology that enables our work. So the complexity is elevated. And I think we need to think of HR as a sense and response system.

How can you understand the health and the flourishing or the environment that creates that flourishing ability for talent, or for the people to to thrive, and what are the interventions that are necessary and in order to implement those interventions, obviously, you need to have a consultative mindset.

You need to have analytical data to make decisions based on that. You need to have really good partnership with IT, with communications, with all the other functions inside the organization to steer them in the right direction to create that workplace experience that the workers expect. So it’s a sense and respond, and it’s more of a integration kind of vertical integration that HR can drive to align the other parts of the organizations to support employees.

Sam Caucci: So I have a feeling you’re not going to like this question, but I’m going to ask it. If you could only measure one thing as an HR operation, because not everybody is large or fortune 50. If you were a fast growing retail brand with 30 locations and an HR leader. You could only measure one thing today.

What would be the metric that you would implore them to be looking towards? 

Stela Lupushor: Am I allowed to have an index? I call it Workforce Vitality Index. And it is looking at the inputs So how many people are you hiring, how diverse that is. Looking at the outputs, how your volunteer attrition and high performer attrition looks like. Looking at the internal mobility rate and cost of talent or cost of workforce.

And you, these are measurements that every organization has. If you plan for them, and you track your progress towards the plan, you’ll be really quickly able to identify whether what you’re doing works because they’re also self-enforcing if you’re hired too fast and not integrating them, you will see attrition spike or you will see cost going up.

If you don’t create mobility people are going to leave again. So all of these measurements work in tandem, and gives a very easy and existing solutions for HR to show and tell the leaders how well they’re doing as far as the people management. 

Anna Tavis: Yeah. And what I would say, Sam, I will. Use a metaphor.

Stella uses indices and I use the metaphor. I would say it’s the talent, the employment brand or the talent brand. which includes everything that Stella described. It’s a reputation that you have as an employer in the market. So how do other talented professionals, the array of skill set holders, right, um, view your organization as a potential place of work?

It’s an external measure, and a lot of it could be subjective. We can break it down to the indices and identify specific elements of that, but I think it comes down to simple. Do talented people want to work for you? Given the choice, will they choose your company over talented people and trust their instincts and trust their research because they’re going to go to, you know, Glass Door and figure it out and we’ll see reviews and they are going to be a part of the community that has that urban legend, you know, the conversations about different employers because and so their assessment of your value as an employer is Is I think what would be the most interesting to explore and break down because a lot of it, some of it is tangible.

But a lot of it is not.

Sam Caucci: Thank you both. I appreciate the conversation. I have one final question for you both. We’ve been talking about humans at work. You know, a lot of this conversation is kind of falls into the lane of future of work and that’s a phrase that’s popularized. I’d like to know what your hopes are for the future of work.

Maybe we can start with Stella. 

Stela Lupushor: I live through my children. And my hope is that the environment will allow them to accomplish their full potential and realize their dreams. And I realize having three of them and having the spectrum of what that is, what their, their vision of the future is, I realize it’s very complex.

And I think that’s what the workplace needs to be to provide. What other people need at that life stage at the point in their career, because when you have children or when you have family situations, you may have very different expectations of support and preferences as far as engaging with the work.

So how might we create a future where we contribute, stay gainfully employed, remunerated for our talent. At the same time, we have the flexibility we need to have a life as well. 

Anna Tavis: All right. I’m going to finish on a poetic note. My favorite quote about the future of work is from Manish Shafiq. She is now just recently, literally last week, became the president of Columbia University, a competitive school for us.

But she said in the past, the work was about the muscle in the present. It’s about the brain. In the future. It’s about the heart. And so my hope for the future of work is that we are finally going to understand the value of intangibles. We’ve been so focused on what we can measure, what we can cut and paste, but I think what’s coming in, and that’s where the whole experiential space is opening up widely for us.

It’s going to be about accommodating the most important and most difficult part of what makes us human, and that is our emotions, our positive emotions, our attractions. And that’s what will be leading to that human flourishing that everyone is looking for. Thank you. 

Sam Caucci: Anna, Stella. Thank you for your time.

Anna Tavis: Thank you.

Stela Lupushor: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Leadership, Work, Workforce

Dana Bernardino, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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