Brex CEO on Taking His Company Virtual-First and the Right Ways to Think About Remote Work

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  • There is no universal return-to-work strategy that will work to the advantage of every company, Brex co-CEO Henrique Dubugras tells the CNBC Technology Executive Council.
  • For financial services start-up Brex, remote work offers more pros than cons, allowing it to hire from a global pool of applicants, and continue to develop connection and communication in virtual spaces.
  • But the Brex co-CEO says, "Ask, 'How does this work for my company?' Not, 'How does remote work for every company out there?"

While some employees are eager to return to the office, and many others simply want a choice between in-person and remote work, companies continue to grapple over which return-to-work strategy works best for them. 

Some companies are moving to permanent virtual models, and enjoying lowered office costs and increased access to talented employees, but most are planning some form of hybrid work, according to a recent CNBC survey of senior executives across many sectors of the economy.

Brex, a financial services platform that allows businesses to manage finances and credit lines which ranked No. 6 on this year's CNBC Disruptor 50 list, recently announced its switch to a virtual-first model while getting rid of its physical headquarters.

Henrique Dubugras, who is the co-CEO and co-founder of Brex alongside Pedro Franceschi, joined CNBC's Technology Executive Council Forum on Wednesday to offer insight into how his company, and others, can benefit from remote work.

1. A virtual water cooler or happy hour isn't a solution

At the beginning of the pandemic, companies were eager to replicate office experiences for employees with things like virtual happy hours, online coffee meetings and Zoom networking events, aiming to mitigate feelings of separation.

But a beer is meant to be shared in person, and people have Zoom-fatigue, Dubugras said. If companies want to be remote, Dubugras said they should learn that there are some in-person office experiences that cannot be replicated in the virtual space and, instead, companies should model that differently.

"There's a lot of experiences that were designed to be on the internet," Dubugras said. "For example, gaming, so sometimes when we do team bonding events, we just play an online game all together."

When looking at how people connected online before the pandemic, Dubugras said there are ways people can feel love and connection through virtual spaces similar to how kids feel connected to their favorite influencers on YouTube, or other social media platforms. Virtual connections can be strengthened through frequent communication and Vlog-style channels where managers at Brex provide recorded videos of themselves to employees, he says.

"There's a lot of things the internet solved before, on how to do things that we should look to and copy, instead of trying to bring what we did in the office into an online version," Dubugras said.

2. Don't base return-to-work plan on what other companies are doing

Technology companies are leading on new work models, but not all in the same way.

Twitter said early in the pandemic that employees can work from home "forever."

Salesforce says "the past is gone" and 60% of employees may be remote, up from 20% before the pandemic.

Dropbox is moving to a virtual-first space, and Google, which wants to bring employees back, has run into resistance from workers.

An important caveat about return to work is every company is different and there is no universal plan that works for all. "There's no one size fits all. I think depending on your business, your product, your culture, remote [work] might or might not be a good fit," Dubugras said. "Ask, 'How does this work for my company?' Not, 'How does remote work for every company out there?'"

Though every return-to-work plan has its ups and downs, and no plan comes without disadvantages, Dubugras said it is a company's job to weigh the pros and cons of each option.

3. The biggest advantage of remote is access to talent

Though there are disadvantages to remote work, doors have opened across the country, and even globally, for people to work virtually for companies they would otherwise never have the chance to work for without a remote option.

"Hiring people globally is the main advantage of remote," Dubugras said. "We're willing to take the downsides of remote for the fact that we get to hire people wherever they are."

The option of working remotely allows for companies to recruit anywhere from the biggest cities to the most rural parts of the globe, and companies can not only hire the best applicant in the area but potentially the best applicant in the world.

"Our best people are able to live their best lives and live wherever they want, independent of where our offices are," Dubugras said. "It's an amazing benefit."

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