Survey the team — There’s a lot of value to reading the room on a formal basis. Our People & Culture team conducts surveys to get feedback on what’s working and what’s not. If there are areas and topics where we need to be more communicative, we can address those accordingly.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tony DiBenedetto.

Tony DiBenedetto is CEO of Appspace, which delivers the first unified workplace experience platform for workplace communications and workplace management. He founded Tampa-based Tribridge in 1998, growing the company from a start-up to more than 800 employees, before selling it in 2017.

Tony also founded “Think Big for Kids” in 2016, a non-profit focused on breaking the cycle of poverty for deserving children through mentorship and job opportunities.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

In 2016, I started a non-profit, “Think Big for Kids” (TBFK) to serve kids from low-income families who are often overlooked and under-challenged. Working with volunteers from companies and organizations, TBFK engages with kids in sixth through 12th grades at Boys & Girls Club locations to bring awareness to career opportunities they may not have considered or been exposed to.

Our volunteers and partner organizations provide job readiness training, internships, scholarships, and work placement. The goal is to excite young people about professional options and help them succeed after they graduate high school.

Saying I come from humble beginnings is an understatement. TBFK believes every kid has untapped potential and I’m proof that’s true. Of all the professional memorable moments I’ve had (and, thankfully, there have been a lot), I’d place starting TBFK close to the top.

This May, TBFK awarded 37 scholarships to students in Tampa (where I live). We had about 100 people, including the kids, at my house to award the scholarships and celebrate. It was a full-circle moment for me and took me back to when I was 17 and had a lot of people in my corner. TBFK is my opportunity to help kids to whom I can relate in so many ways.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

After graduating from Florida State, I was a consultant at Arthur Andersen for several years, before becoming a partner. I was only 32 years old when I left Arthur Andersen to start Tribridge.

To some, leaving a successful career at Arthur Andersen for the unknown of entrepreneurship would be considered a detour. If I had charted my career path at the start of my Arthur Andersen days, I probably wouldn’t have expected to leave after becoming a partner. That would have been my vision of success and, of course, the startup journey is full of uncertainties.

What started in a garage grew to more than 850 people in 20 cities. In the first year of business, we had $2 million in revenue and $300,000 in profit. When I sold the company in 2017, it had grown to $175 million in revenue.

That “detour” is a testament to stepping out on faith and that there’s always something more to accomplish, even after you land the responsibility, job title, and money.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

For me, adaptability was a huge part of growing up. From seventh grade to high school, I lived in 15 different homes. When you grow up around people of all different backgrounds, you learn to adapt — or else. So, I credit my upbringing for a lot of the ways I connect and interact with people.

I’m also a straight shooter and I expect and respect people to communicate with me in an open and upfront manner. That said, I recognize that not everyone does.

I’m a big sports fan and the best coaches and managers are the ones who connect with players on an individual level to create a strong team. Adapting my communication style involves listening to better understand what motivates people. The best communication style starts with honesty, consistency, and respect. If you approach communication with those pillars, adaptability is much easier.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

Clarity may be a bit tougher for me as a communicator because let’s just say, I’m never at a loss for words. I’m a storyteller by nature. While that’s great in many situations, there are times when specific points may be lost. This is especially true when communicating with large, globally distributed teams like we have at Appspace. Our team of 420+ people works across 12 countries and I must be mindful of cultural differences when communicating.

I consider my audience; outline the specific points I want to convey and try not to overcomplicate the message. I’m open and receptive to feedback. I ask for it and incorporate feedback into my communication style, whether I’m talking with fellow team members, customers, prospects, or industry experts, like you.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

I often participated in the business development process at Arthur Andersen. Early in my career, I was part of a big RFP in which we presented to a prospect. In that meeting, I relied on my standard presentation technique where I scanned the room and addressed all the meeting attendees/prospects in a similar manner. We won the account, however, the prospect’s team leader called and said she didn’t want me on the account.

My mistake was, in her opinion, I didn’t respect her as the authority or leader of the business. It certainly wasn’t my intent to be dismissive in any way, but that was her perception and perception is reality, even in business.

It was my responsibility to research and understand the audience. While my presentation approach and style may have been successful in other cases, it didn’t work for this prospect. With more upfront research, I would have easily adjusted. It was a valuable lesson that I’ve shared with sales teams over the years.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

Turn to leaders in your network who you view as successful communicators and ask for counsel and tactics. You also can get guidance and advice from team members who have the gift of effective communication.

Finally, I’ve leaned on leadership books over the years. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins is one of my favorites. It’s more than 20 years old, but there are plenty of timeless leadership lessons, including some on communication.

“The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership,” by James C. Hunter is another leadership book that, for me, has stood the test of time. The overarching message is leadership is not about power, but authority and trust. My philosophy on leadership is that I work for my team, not the other way around. If people believe and feel that, they’re more likely to listen and hear what I’m saying.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce?

1 . Communicate regularly — At Appspace, communication is not a one-off occurrence around a bad event or leadership change. We have monthly town halls that provide an opportunity for me and other leaders to give regular updates on the state of the business. We also use this time to recognize individual success and achievements in the form of our STAR Awards program. We open the floor for Q&A, which can be anonymous, to allow people to ask questions about the business. We hope this regular communication keeps people informed and engaged.

2 . Involve others — As much as I like to talk, (remember I’m a storyteller), I share the proverbial stage with others whenever possible. There are areas of the business that make sense for others to discuss, in our town halls, and in smaller, team settings. A top-down communication strategy is important and effective, but it is not the only way to communicate within a company.

3 . Get face-to-face — The town halls are a great vehicle for me to connect with the entire team on a regular basis. However, the last few years have shown us the benefits of in-person interaction and connections. Over the last year, I’ve traveled to Appspace offices in Malaysia, Portugal, and Spain, along with our Chief People Officer, and other leaders. Appspace is based in Dallas, but we really want non-U.S.-based employees to feel and remain connected in the same ways as their colleagues in the States. In-person meetings help build those connections.

4 . Survey the team — There’s a lot of value to reading the room on a formal basis. Our People & Culture team conducts surveys to get feedback on what’s working and what’s not. If there are areas and topics where we need to be more communicative, we can address those accordingly.

5 . Take an omnichannel approach — Our workplace experience platform enables organizations to communicate with employees via multiple channels, from a modern intranet to an employee app. In highly distributed workforces, we must connect with employees where they are and on their preferred devices. An omnichannel approach makes sure employees receive important news and information — at the same time — whether they are in a traditional office, working from home, or on the frontline.

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to diminish distractions. At Appspace, we have “Quiet Fridays,” which are designed to give team members time to focus on creativity and completing tasks. If possible, we avoid scheduling meetings or sending messages that can wait until the following week. This is just one approach we take as a company — but, admittedly, may not work for every organization.

I personally disconnect from devices and distractions when I go hiking. It’s me, my dog, and no phone. This gives me dedicated time to generate ideas and strategies for tackling priorities. The idea of not being tethered to a phone may cause unease for some leaders, but it grounds me.

Finally, but likely most important, is the ability to delegate and trust your teams. If you relinquish the need to be involved in every project or decision, you can remove some of the unnecessary distractions. When you have an exceptional, hardworking team you trust, and you demonstrate that trust, they take ownership and accept the consequences, good or bad.

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

Listening. As leaders, we often want to respond quickly, solve the problem, and move on to the next conversation. Good communication is often not what we say, but what we hear. We’ve been talking about the increasing number of distractions we all face, but amid all the noise, people still want to be heard. Active listening is a great start.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Thank you. There are a lot of movements that could move the needle in the right direction. People will make the most impact in the areas they’re most passionate about.

So, for me, I’ll go back to Think Big for Kids. In every place in the world, there are kids who don’t have positive role models or see a better life outside of their current environment. When you’re a kid, adulthood can seem so far away. If there’s a way to impact a child’s life by showing them a better outcome is possible, then do it. That will impact the child’s life, their family, and the community.

How can our readers stay connected with you?

Please connect with me on LinkedIn at: and follow Appspace at

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!