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How Metro Manila Prepared Me For The Global Workplace

I was in Metro Manila a couple of weeks ago, which brought back many memories of my early days as a salesperson in the various multinational companies I worked with. The memories and emotions were initially triggered by the views from the 65th floor of a building in Makati city where I stayed. The views were astounding as I gazed upon the antiquity and density of the structures, and the vibrancy of the transports, people and all things moving below.

From one side, I could see the cities of Mandaluyong, San Juan and Pasig and as far as the mountain range behind Marikina and Quezon City. From another window, my gaze could reach the very modern buildings of the central business district of Makati and the very old cities of Manila, all the way up to Manila Bay.

Indeed, it’s astounding to be in the center of culture, economy, education and government of the Philippines. I tried to update myself with the metropolitan’s latest statistics and refreshed myself with how old the cities were, and found this information:

  • Metro Manila, made up of 16 cities and one municipality, is the most populous of the 12 defined metropolitan areas in the Philippines and the 11th most populous in the world. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 11.9 million, equivalent to 13% of the national population.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers listed Metro Manila in 2011 as the 28th largest economy of all urban agglomerations in the world and the 2nd in Southeast Asia.
  • The area of Metropolitan Manila was already settled before the Spanish came. The locals traded and received goods and peoples from its Asian neighbors, such as the Chinese, Javanese and the Bruneians. After the Spaniards, Spanish Manila was founded on June 24, 1571, by three conquistadors: Martín de Goiti, Juan de Salcedo, and Miguel López de Legazpi.

After my 5-day stay in Makati city – the place where I worked for 9 years before I relocated to Kuala Lumpur and then to Singapore – I felt a sense of appreciation and gratitude for how my local workplace formed and prepared me for the global workplace.

Endurance and Adaptability

It was stressing to live anywhere within Metro Manila. The long travels due to distance, limited roads and slow traffic; the highly dense population that made the streets chaotic; and the excessive level of bureaucracy that characterized our daily living all added to the stress. But with these came out endurance, adaptability and resourcefulness.

I learned to endure and patiently sit through normal slow traffic, not to mention, the occasional typhoons and floods. There was a time I covered the government and banking sectors, and I had to travel around Makati, Manila and Quezon City often. Back then, I had to plan my account and customer visits very well to meet my target number of calls and maximize my sales productivity. This was the time when we didn’t have smartphones and Internet access. Basic mobile phones were just starting, and were used on restricted basis due to the high costs associated with them. For a period of time, we relied on our pager devices to send telegram-like messages as needed.

When I look back how I consistently achieved my sales targets during those days, I’d have to say I adapted well and was very resourceful. Aside from dealing with the physical challenge of moving around, I also had to navigate through the daily chaos and bureaucracies at the workplaces, at the same time, upheld my standards, values and ethics. I remember establishing and developing relationships from the building security guards, to the receptionists and secretaries, and all the way up to the stakeholders – minor or major – of the first automation project I managed at one of the biggest banks. Over time, I honed my people skills talking, influencing and winning people’s support.

Joyful and Positive Attitudes

Despite the pressures of daily living in Metro Manila, there was so much joy and laughter around me that made everything seemed light and easy. Of course, I was way younger then and I was beaming with eagerness to make it successful into the business world so everything seemed easy to conquer. Yet there’s something about the Filipino positivity and happiness that described most conversations be it at home, in the office or in public places.

I remember those days when my sales colleagues and I would have coffee in the morning at our cafeteria, and start the day sharing about our work adventures and family stories. These lighthearted and warm exchanges always made our workplace a happy place. The friendships I’ve kept until today with my officemates back then are clear testimonies of the strong team bonding we developed.

Relevance to the Global Workplace

All the competencies I developed through constant trials and practices on the job, helped me to adapt to different cultures, to communicate with various levels and stakeholders, to endure adversities, and to be resourceful and creative without relying on technology alone. In the global workplace, these skills and traits helped me deal with and solve issues on a day-to-day basis.

Emotional Intelligence. Undoubtedly, emotional intelligence is one of the key success factors for managers and leaders today. Daniel Goleman wrote in a recent article: IQ and technical skills matter, of course: they are crucial threshold abilities, what you need to get the job done. But everyone you compete with at work has those same skill sets. It’s the distinguishing competencies that are the crucial factor in workplace success: the variables that you find only in the star performers – and those are largely due to emotional intelligence. These human skills include, for instance, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence.

Employee Engagement. Demonstrating empathy and relationship-building skills are among the valued traits from our generation. There’s been research that one of the ways to improve employee engagement at work is to foster friendships. The research showed that workers are happier when they have friendships with co-workers – those whom they can chat, hangout and have fun with. Having friends at work made their jobs more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.

I appreciate the conveniences of modern technology and the efficiency of infrastructures in Singapore where I’m based today. But I’ll forever be grateful for the inconveniences and the chaotic workplaces of Metro Manila. From its cities, I learned a lot and developed skills and competencies that have prepared me well for the demands of today’s global workplaces.

* Note: This article was also posted in LinkedIn & featured in their Business Travel section

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