Mr. Manners: The Office Is Our Second Home
I have been working for over 30 years, and much of my time was at one place, ABS-CBN. I joined in the early years of the network right after the People Power Revolution, when we were housed in the old props area.
Channel 4, the government network, occupied much of the original broadcast center. We were a motley group of people. We all knew each other, and we lived merrily, given what folks would say are tough conditions.
Before entering the props area, the newsroom was built like a two-storey lean-to, and when the rain pummeled, it would become a flood zone.
The main hallway—an open space with planter dividers—housed several departments and offices: human resources, public affairs, program acquisitions, the office of the Programme Director, the Office of the General Manager, production, editing rooms, research, and a conference room. Finance was burrowed in the old rehearsal halls, and may be accessed through dark stairwells.
The main corridor that dissected the broadcast center was our Master Control. We had very few bathrooms. There were three studios where lights were moved in between takes, and a pelota court which served as our cafeteria.
We spent—and most still do—most of our waking hours in those halls. From those cowboys and Indians days, we have grown full-on to occupy the four-hectare triangle, with a refurbished Broadcast Center, a Gensler designed, and Locsin interior tower, and a whole slew of vehicles, and yes, really nice bathrooms.
ABS-CBN may not be a typical corporate environment, but it was home. We kept our family close, and we worked tough days to provide. We built relationships and friendships that have made us survive coup d’états, a fire, no vehicles, tough competition, and even a stampede that could have ruined us. We carried on because we believed in the Golden Rule. Citing Chron.com, the Golden Rule is defined as "The Ethic of Reciprocity,” which simply states that “you are to treat other people as you would wish to be treated yourself." This concept exists throughout hundreds of cultures and therefore intersects with business and workplace behavior.
When I was asked what made my journey at ABS-CBN unique, I often reply that it was more family than my family. When I retired from corporate work, I was lucky to have joined a realty company that focused on outstanding work ethic. It was different in the sense that, despite the bohemian culture in media, the key takeaways from working in any place are the same.
At ABS-CBN, there was a reverential sense for management. I began my work when the late Eugenio Lopez Jr. was very active with the conglomerate. During an election coverage, the hallway was filled with people as we were managing a live coverage. Mr. Lopez arrived and the crowd parted like the Red Sea, and made him pass through. He shook hands, tapped people’s shoulders, and asked the employees how things were going. I also recall that during the shoot-out at the Camelot Hotel, which was by our perimeter, he arrived in tennis whites and wanted to see first what was happening. This gentleman inspired us, as do his son Gabby, Freddie Garcia, the late Rolly Cruz, and Charo Santos-Concio to do the right thing.
My learnings are wherever you go, you need to be rooted in mindfulness and self-discipline.
As you read through my column, I hope you will see this as a reflection of how we need to behave amongst others. I took time to look at YouTube videos from the 50s and found many elements on how to act hold true, but I guess, we need to be more tolerant and understanding.
The key is sending the right signal. It has to come from within, because you can’t just play-act. Here are some things I learned through the years:
Greet people by their names. I know we lead multi-faceted lives. Our own home may be having a turbulent stride, but let’s try to keep work separate from it. So, when you get to work, say your personal mantra—mine is, “I am blessed, and it will be a good day”—and walk in and say “hi.” You need not be “plastic,” just be kind.
Be a pro. When at work, focus on the matter at hand, and just do the job. It can be hard when things are happening all at the same time, and the bosses want you to finish things like yesterday. Rather than being fast, be thorough. Be proactive, and be professional.
Be upright. Remember, not everything you are made to do is right. I regret having to do some things I did, and I have hurt others in the process. So, try not to sink to someone else’s standards. Don’t do things that you may regret later. Your superior may not always be right. Also, in the process of interaction, you may get into a disagreement; always take the high road. In the same way, if a co-worker behaves badly, it is not a reason for you to follow suit. Always keep your poise and do the right thing, even if you’re doing it alone. It matters and will be noticed.
Be honest. Like any family, there will always be minor squabbles and mis-understandings. If you feel someone is infringing upon your ability to perform your job well, address it directly and talk to the person involved. Don’t engage in backbiting. Be honest and straightforward. Clearly state how their behavior is affecting you, and, perhaps, others. Kindly request a change of behavior, emphasizing how everyone could benefit from it. If the problem persists and is truly more than a mere annoyance, then bring it to the attention of your supervisor.
Be on time. I worked through endless meetings that I needed to attend and oversee. Be on time, even if you are not holding the meeting. Be ready with what you want to achieve, and keep to it. We can’t stay away from the small talk, but I think given the times, we all want to get through the day and set things right. In the meetings, always give praise to those that have done well, and no throwing under the bus or “laglagan.” I believe in karma.
Be friendly to new employees. I remember when I joined ABS-CBN in 1987, I had one friend and she was in a different department. Although she would join me for lunch at the pelota court, I knew no one. Cedie Lopez-Vargas, who headed purchasing, knew my sisters, and would chat with me. She lent me an office book on management to read till I got my first posting. Cedie has become a lifelong friend in the process, and a beacon. We all need to reach out, and lifelong friends happen!
I also want to share key pointers that would help you on your way:
Manage your mobile phone. Since we are all genetically attached to our mobile phones, here are some mindful thoughts. Given open offices, like what we had, keep your voice down when you take a call, even if the message is totally scream-able. Avoid “cell-yelling,” and keep your tone discreet. Don’t engage calls in the elevator. In a meeting, keep your phone to silent and face down. Just like having dinner, it’s impolite to your co-workers if you aren’t being attentive. Just respect people’s space; if you need to take a call, excuse yourself.
Respect people’s space. If someone is having a bad day, just keep away. Don’t let things fester. If you want to help, be sincere and don’t be nosey. Also, if you are really sick, just rest. Don’t be a martyr. Oh, should I say, if you eat at your desk, take care that the bagoong doesn’t waft too much. You know, durian is a never, never at the office.
At ABS-CBN, we take family seriously. The Kapamilya spirit is true, and the values that keep us going are rooted in deep. Much like all things, we must have a core in our moral fiber to do the right thing. So, think before you speak. Be kind to everyone, and a simple “hello” and “thank you” will make your co-worker feel better. See you at home, oh, I mean, the office.