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Improving Workplace Experience with Tony DiBenedetto

George Grombacher March 16, 2023

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Improving Workplace Experience with Tony DiBenedetto

LifeBlood: We talked about improving the workplace experience through technology, how to make your office a destination so people actually want to be there, how to foster adoption of technology, and what the future of work could be, with Tony DiBenedetto, CEO of Appspace.   

Listen to learn how to support your employees’ productivity at home, at the office, and in the in-between places like their favorite coffee shop!

You can learn more about Tony at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Tony DeBenedetto

Tony DiBenedetto

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well, hello, this is George G. And the time is right welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Tony de Benedetto. Tony, are you ready to do this? I am excited, George. All right, let’s go. Tony is a technology executive. He’s an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is the CEO of app space. They are platform helping organizations build exceptional workplace experiences with simple communication and space management tools. Tony, excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal life smart about your work, why you do what you do?

Tony DiBenedetto 0:33
Wow, you started with the big question. Yeah, you know a little bit about my personal life. Let’s see, I was born in Brooklyn.

I was kind of a young teenager, not not on the right track. So she gave me up early, I want to live in in about 15 homes grown up different Holmes, which kind of helped me for what I do for a living. Because he kind of really allowed me to connect with people from just a lot of different backgrounds. We were I was very poor growing up.

I was like the first high school graduate in my family, which I even to this day, feel like some cool accomplishment, and then went to college, all that worked in a few different places, have started a few companies. I’m married with two girls. One daughter lives up in DC, she’s a grown up 27. And then my younger daughter is a dancer and lives with us a pass. I don’t know if that’s what you meant by personal but I’ll start there, and you can drill down. I think that that’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing that. I don’t think it’s awesome that you had the experience of living in 15 homes growing up. I mean, that certainly, as you look back, it has to have shaped you. Yeah, actually, I describe myself as a happy kid, you don’t really know that it seems weird till you’re out of it. And people say What do you mean, and actually, those 15 homes are really between seventh grade and 12th grade. So it’s really a lot of them a lot of mobile, I was a hybrid kid, not a hybrid worker, I was going you know, I had a couple of boxes. So I learned not to get attached to things. So as an adult, I don’t really value cars or kind of material things. I think that’s kind of a good outcome of it.

And I live with so many different people, Spanish,

German, like really hardcore cultures, in those houses, I lived in a neighborhood where I was the only white person which I thought was a good way to grow up and, you know, see people differently and be in a neighborhood where you’re not, you don’t look like everybody else. But that really helped me deal with race issues growing up. And then certainly, as an adult,

Unknown Speaker 2:52
I did live in a couple of houses that were nice, got kicked out of those. I lived in a guy’s closet once, which was kind of cool. So so I you know, to be honest, with the I learned change, I deal with change pretty easily. Maybe a little too self reliant along the way too. But all in all, I felt like it was a great preparation for kind of a global world, you know, because about as I was born in the 60s, mid 60s, as I was starting to become a young adult people started talking about the globalization of the workforce and the influence of you know, at that time, they were talking a lot about India, China and Brazil back then. But if you think about how the evolve the mean, something that happens in really any country impacts all of us. So I think it helped me to live in those houses. Because, you know, I felt globally that I lived in the United States. Some of the people didn’t speak English, I live in one one house where the family is from Peru, and there wasn’t their first language. So English was not their first language. So you know, you adapt to, you know, trying to understand people when you don’t understand all the words like reading the body language and all those things. So I don’t know if you really want to talk about that. But it was a great learning experience, I would say, and I had a lot of help people. It also I’m an optimist, I think because of it because people I have known the people that helped me the most of the people that had the least. And I always look at that as this, you know, they really, they really didn’t have to do it. You know, they really were taking a chance to help some young kid and I wasn’t in the foster program. It was actually kind of a neighborhood foster kid. So I kind of got bounced around the people that knew me.

Unknown Speaker 4:39
And you know, they all just they had nothing. I slept on couches car, like, everything was a gift because it really was difficult for them to provide it. And to this day, I’m still friends with all those people and all those families. So it’s a nice thing. Yeah, that’s an amazing experience. And one day Tony

Unknown Speaker 5:00
A wonderful movie, potentially. Yeah, well, good. You could do the narration you got a great voice.

Unknown Speaker 5:07
I am I’m absolutely in. So all right, so bringing people together, different perspectives, different languages, different experiences, different parts of the world. And And now here you are today perfectly suited to be leading this company that is trying to bring it all together and bringing it all together using technology.

Unknown Speaker 5:28
Yeah, I don’t know if it’s serendipity. But it’s something you know, I, I started another company with some friends about 20 years ago, we sold it more than 20 years ago, sold it in 17. And frankly, thought, well, you know, my next starting next chapter in life was like, hey, you know, we’re going to kind of ratchet it down a little bit. And I did that for four or five years, that was on a number of tech boards, which which I still am, and joined ABS face originally as a board member. And at first, to be honest with you, I probably didn’t really get it, I was connected to the company through their investors. And I liked the people and all that, but I really get that there was some serendipity to this, and you’ve pointed it out, but I really love in the thing I think I connected with my whole life is how do you get people to resolve their differences? How do you bring people together? How do you get them to perform above the individual talents, you know, I used to always use the term, I’m a team player, like I’m a team sports guy like baseball, not golf. And that was my metaphor for business only works if you can understand this bigger picture, the mission or the vision, and get the best out of the teams. And that’s worked for me. And then when it came to aspects, I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing. I think COVID really highlighted that, because people started working in a more accelerated way, in what I would say, much more disparate way, right. So whether it was at home or a combination of home in the office, all of a sudden, it was a taxing kind of approach to communicating. And here I am sitting in a company, and I just became the CEO, by the way, about a year ago.

Unknown Speaker 7:14
Here I am in the middle of a company that offers all these tools to bring all these people together. And I realized that connection for me was in my soul, like it was more, it was more pulling me like, Oh, this is attractive to you. Even though I’m a tech guy, I’m much more of a humanist, like I really connect with people that way, which is kind of funny that I learned zeros and ones yet, they seem flat to me, you know, and people are so you know, three or four dimensional, depending on your experience. But anyway, so I somehow connected really to and I, it’s excited, like you’re not always excited about the things that you’re doing. Even though you might fake that a little bit at times. I love that, like I genuinely excited about the and I hate the word impact, because it’s such a trite word, I guess. But we really do impact companies like we have, you know, our mission is we want to create places where people love to work. And I do think we do that. Like you don’t always get to do that, you know, not every tool makes it a place that you love to work. But I think COVID pointed out to the world that the tools matter a little bit because you’re you can have a negative experience, you know, and we kind of make that go away.

Unknown Speaker 8:27
I think that that’s awesome. You’re clearly a thoughtful guy talking about the zeros and ones versus the actual people experience and create a place where people want to work. I mean, we spend so much time, you know, the majority of our waking hours in the workplace. So if you can have a hand in making it a place where people actually like it and enjoy it, I think that that’s an incredible thing. And your tool is is given the resources of the to do that. But do you also think of it as okay, how do I actually teach people how to use the thing? So it’s not just a worthless tool? Yeah, there’s no question like any technology, like you have a bunch of tech at your house that you have, but you realize either realize, you don’t realize it works the way you do, or you don’t use it the intended way because you found a one or two features that you know how to use and you get that advantage and sometimes somebody will come to my asset. Well, you realize if you hit this button, you get pitcher and pitcher or whatever goofy thing that you’re not using. And you’re like, Oh crap, like that’s, that’s really cool. So there’s no question. One of the biggest obstacles to technology proliferating is adoption, right? Like how do you get people to know what it is and then use it and all the big companies certainly suffer with this part a bit is letting companies share you know, like, we do a good job. We have a lot of the probably almost half the Fortune 500 uses our software and so

Unknown Speaker 10:00
If we’re lucky that there’s lots of advocates in those companies that are willing to share their best practices, again, another old term, but what’s the best way you do this? And oftentimes, it’s not about the, you know, the features on the software, it’s, well, how did you actually implement that? How did you get people to change what they’re doing? And to get them to like, like their people are tend to be frustrated in COVID? Because they’re working by themselves at home, or they’re working by themselves in the office? Or how do you get them to go on the system and check to see who else is working in the offense? Because our, our software allows you to figure out who’s working in the office so that if you want to collaborate with, you know, George and Tony, what are they in the office today? Not a calendar function? But really more than that, like, when are they going to be in the office in the future, what equipment set up and is there food there and are there are there printers available and, you know, is there space available, and you know, the lights on and you know, all the other parts of a work experience, not the flatness of just a calendar. So that you really set up an experience that, you know, allows you to have the kind of meeting you want, because not all the time, you want to have the flat meeting where you’re on video, or the meeting where you’re all sitting at your desk, sometimes you need a digital whiteboard. And sometimes you need multiple rooms, or different types of screens, or whatever security, because you’re having a top secret meeting. So be able to factor those attributes in and make it easy to people to figure it out without calling everybody and trying to read between the lines, you know, I kind of feel like, in some ways, we take a lot of the stress out of what people do every day, we just make it a lot easier. You know, like, we make it easier to find information, right? So that we have a modern intranet product as part of our product. And it’s just about finding information. And I my daughter works in this really big company. And she explained sometimes it’s a little frustrated, like, how do I find this big company? And I laugh because I’m like, well, that’s kind of one of the things we do, right? You know, like, it’s so easy for you to find the information that you need. And that just makes your job better, because you’re not spending hours searching for something. So those little things. So back to your original question which I sidetracked one, just putting customers together to recognizing it’s not just the technology, it’s also we have a little bit of a service group that goes out and does workshops with our customers, and just says, Hey, you know, do you realize here are the top 10 things you can do, or hey, here are some best practices that other companies do. And all of those are ways for us to touch base, we also bring our customers together, we have an event in September, where we have a live customer event. I know that seems crazy in 2023, to do a live bet. But inside, just letting them talk to each other. We invite our partners in who use our software in their own way. And they show how they use the software. That’s just another nice way to do it. And then some of our, you know, bigger, bigger customers, we bring in a couple times a year to tell us all the things we do right and wrong, you know. And we the funny thing about that relative to your question is, they often tell us they’re doing something with a product you didn’t dream of, you know, there’s a use case, or an example where like, Oh, we didn’t even know that you were doing that, you know, we didn’t sell it to you that way. But here you are doing something. And then of course, we’re like, well, we need to repeat that what other customers, you know, share that. So there’s lots of ways to get people that do it. We are lucky, I joke by the way, the company was doing a lot of this before I got here. So I’m gonna take any credit for it. But the software is easy to use. I mean, part of it, frankly, is we’re all sick of apps. And we’re sick of software to some degree, right? And so making something easy, like how do you trim down all the noisy features and just focus on the features that people want? Then this company has been doing that for 20 years, but again, long before I got here three years ago. And I think there’s some special people here that have figured that out, like ask the right questions and kind of don’t, we’re not trying to build every feature we’re trying to build the features people really use. So go back to you know, I don’t know a word processor. I won’t name a name, but we’ve all had word processors in the look at the menu on a word processor. There’s like 5000 features. And you know, I used the font and the highlight, maybe print it I use like 10 things. What are the 10 things Imagine if the word processor just had the 10 thing? Right? You know, I think it would be a little bit easier to navigate and a little less frustrating. I know that’s a silly example. But I think that mentality to usability where things are simple and more ergonomic so that you know people the way people look and process information we study that quite a bit.

Unknown Speaker 15:00
Have, we do all of those little things to try to make it easier for our customers? Yeah, I think that that makes a ton of sense. Probably super easy for brilliant people to want to keep adding and adding cool new features. And oh my gosh, people are gonna love this. But it’s probably unnecessary complexity. And the whole idea is to make it easy. And I love how you’re so conscious about making your space or people spaces inviting, because if you want people to come into your office, you better make it. So it’s a nice place to be. And when they show up, the stuffs gonna be there, they don’t need to spend a lot of time searching for it or getting frustrated, because they can’t get into the building or find the coffeemaker or whatever it might be.

Unknown Speaker 15:42
You know, George, I think I’ve said this for 20 years, this was pre AP space. For me, I feel like we’ve been in this employee revolution. I feel like, you know, when I grew up, and I started working professionally, in the 80s, we kind of went to work did what you were told you certainly nobody cared that you had a personal passion, you may not even know the mission of the company. And if somebody told you to do something, even if you’re uncomfortable with it, you kind of did it, or you probably were looked upon negatively, you certainly never questioned the leaders. And when I started the company with with a couple of friends in 1998, we wanted to build something that was kind of the inverse of that, like really employee centric, and it was super successful. Because we really took that serious, you know, we had this mindset. And we were doing hybrid work. From the first day we had this lady Doris, who interviewed with us, and she was awesome. She was like our second or third hire. And she’s like, Hey, listen, at the very end of the interview, we were given her an offer. And she’s like, Hey, I can only work six hours a day.

Unknown Speaker 16:46
And it kind of flooded 9098. That wasn’t something to be said in an interview.

Unknown Speaker 16:52
Immediately, right, in the first three months in business, I’m like, great, that’s fine, as long as you understand the pace, probably a little bit adjusted. But I got to ask you like, Why? Why do you only want to work six hours a day, and it didn’t dawn on me because I was a knucklehead. She’s like, because I gotta pick my kid up from school. And I’m like, oh, okay, that makes sense. And from that moment on, we really had flexible work. We made a few offices, we had about 900 people that a few offices across the globe, but almost everybody was in hybrid work mode. And that was a 98. And so I we have felt like there’s been an employee revolution going on for like, 25 years, I think all I’ve noticed that’s happened with COVID Is it got accelerated and the power is in the people, which sounds really revolutionary. But there is power, because you have choice now, right? There’s, there’s labor shortage in a lot of different fields, low unemployment in a lot of different fields, which gives a lot of power to the employee. And I think as a result, what’s happened now is people aren’t going to work. They’re not even though there’s if you read the newspaper, which you probably read a lot, or listen to the newspaper, wherever you consume it. There’s all these policies, you know, this company, you know, McKinsey, or Disney or Twitter, you name it, they’re saying, we have a Back to Work initiative. But not all the workers are coming back. That’s what we’re hearing, we’re hearing policy is not enough. It has to be a destination. It’s almost like the either the Ritz Carlton effect, right? How do you get people to come to you? How do you offer a level of service, which is very different than what I described my first few years growing up in the work force. Now it’s how do you create a destination? You know, and so you’re seeing big major companies creating more collaborative workspace? Every, almost every company, you go to has lockers now, because you’re not going to be in your hotel and your hot desking? And, you know, how do you create an environment where you do that, but it still feels personal? Well, you have lockers where people can put personal things and they can put them out, but they don’t need to take them home. And then you know, you’re changing. You have all these leases coming up. I think 50% of the world leases are coming up in the next couple of years. And I think people are whether they’re downsizing or not. They’re certainly reconfiguring the office space. And then I what we’re hearing from our customers, is there realizing that people are having office hours, not even at home and not even in the office, they’re going to coffee shops and collaborating, they’re going to these other locations, and how do you make the tools available there like we, we call it the in between, you know, it’s in between home and office, and, you know, trying to accommodate that us as an organization cares so much about you as an employee. We want to make all that seamless, and it’s not there are Listen, there are jobs where you have to be present. It’s hard to be a nurse or a doctor and do it from the coffee shop. It’s a little hard although there’s plenty of automation in that field as well where surgery is becoming more automated, but I think we’re a long way from you know, taking your temperature for our way

Unknown Speaker 20:00
Still, there’s many, many, many jobs where we’re hearing one of our customers, I’m not sure I should say, but one of our famous customers was telling me that the design apparel and shoes and that kind of thing. And they actually in COVID, reduce their design time not being together. So here’s a team that worked together on announcements of new product design a new product, they actually cut the design down in down in COVID. And now they’re using more remote design, even though they could be in the same location. So I do think there are examples of higher productivity for people, you certainly hear all the examples of, you know, working families that are not driving multiple hours, and they’re getting to take their kids to school, and, you know, work and or don’t work and play and sports and stuff like that, but not feeling the same pressure. So they’re having more productive time, you know, on those zoom calls they are having at home or those, you know, Google meet calls or Microsoft Teams, I don’t want to name any names and hear about that. But so, so I do think, I think some of our leaders are stuck in an old pattern, right, like some of the leaders of some of these policies think that you have to see the world. And frankly, that’s not true in all fields. So I think having tools that allow you to work easily in these new environments is kind of the trend of the future. So as much as I know, I relate, the employee revolution is just a changing a sea change of the way we work. Others think it’s related to employment, I think it’s a little bit of both, I don’t think we’re going backwards, Georgia, I think you’ll see more and more with competitors of ours, as well as us continue to make it easier. Because I don’t think we’re ever going back to an environment where I have to watch the work, it reminds me of the book, like the in the movie 1984. You know, like, we’re a long way away from that, right. And I think all the power is in the people doing the work, if you don’t make it a destination, you’re gonna have really high turnover, and lose the most important intellectual property you have in the company, which is what people know, and the relationships they have with the customer. I think all of us, I think we’ve all figured that out, I hope. So. There’s very few of us that can do these jobs without strong people. And so if you don’t make it a destination where people not only are attracted to it initially, but you have to sell them every day, like every single day, people have to come to work and feel like, hey, this isn’t this is a place where I can be productive. I like the people, I’m connected. And it’s not a hassle. And so I think I think that is kind of at the heart of what we do as a company. But I think I think all technology providers are starting to understand that and are starting to make that happen. So you see a lot of our partners putting out things that we don’t even do that are making that transition as well.

Unknown Speaker 22:55
I love it, the office as a destination supporting the employee revolution. That’s all really well said. And even better, well done. So thank you so much for coming on. Tony, where can people learn more about you? And how can they engage with App space?

Unknown Speaker 23:10
Yeah, obviously, like everybody, we have a website at app You know, we put on all kinds of events throughout the year. So

Unknown Speaker 23:21
think just reaching out to us and connecting with us and we can connect the dots for you and help you with whatever really whatever workplace experience issue that you have, even if we don’t solve it, our connections to three or 400 partners now, we feel like we can connect the dots for you. So George, I really, really appreciate being on I know I’m a little verbose, so hopefully I didn’t take too much.

Unknown Speaker 23:44
Good. If you enjoyed as much as I did so Tony, your appreciation and share today share with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to app and start a communication start a conversation to see if the solution is going to help improve your work workplace experience and make your office a destination as well as figuring out those in between spaces at coffee shops and everywhere else. Thanks. Good, Tony. Thanks, George. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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