What I will and won’t miss about the corporate office

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The output of your work does not represent your entire personhood. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Working in a bank in Makati, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. every working day to get out of Antipolo before 6:00 am and get to my office by 7:30 am. I carpooled with my neighbors and paid ₱55.00 for a one-way trip. Every day, after paying, I dozed off and would wake up just as we got to the former Mandarin Oriental along Makati Ave. I would then saunter along the stretch of Paseo de Roxas to get to Ayala Avenue.

I was lucky to have a pleasant morning commute (except for my 5 a.m. alarm and every time I missed it). This part of the day felt taboo but comforting — I would steal away a few more minutes of sleep and then carry myself to another dimension of the city where the air was mostly breezy and walking in it gave me time to be with myself.

My work started officially after I had my coffee, from the 3-in-1s in the convenience store on Rada Street to the fifth floor vending machine, it was a personal adventure for me to find the most rewarding cup that wasn't Starbucks.

I looked forward to lunch breaks. I would use that time to window shop or eat somewhere far. I would also frequent the bathroom and find the best cubicle to do number 2 (which was usually in the clinic). My water refill breaks and meriendas in the pantry filled me in on chismis and real talk with friends. The pantry was the best birthday venue, and everyone had to join in on the surprise and devour cake. Then there were the occasional overtime hours where you would get much more work done and take comfort when you see someone else’s head out in another cubicle.

My time in the office was a daily confluence of all schools of life. My first friends in the office were the guards and the canteen staff. I found myself hanging out by the lobby more, just chatting with them because it was just so easy to be myself around them. Apart from doing actual work in the physical structure of the office, being in it taught me how to relate and be with others. For me, it was the best place to experience “work.”

"I was more determined to show up for the work first, then socialize later. I knew I was getting too deep into the system whenever I found myself using corporate buzzwords, like deep dive, synergy, let’s talk about this offline, disrupt the market, circle back."

The office was where I got to meet characters in their element. It was where I saw teamwork. It was where I met different personas I used to hear from stories of the other adults — the female boss who always has nice black pumps; the nurturing office seatmate who always had an extra sachet of Skyflakes; the manager who always returns from lunch with a paper bag from Zara; the officemate who always clocks in at 9:15 am; the one who often talks about resigning; the family man who has photos of his kids on his desk; and the one who always runs out of vacation leaves.

To me, work was about using your strength in an activity you were supposed to do day in and day out. The output of your work may or may not represent your entire personhood. Back then, I subscribed to the whole work-life balance and how your work persona should be segmented from who you really are at 6 p.m. and on the weekends. I used to always reflect about how I should work for a company that I am “passionate” about or do something I am “passionate” about. Now I’m careful to use that word. Experience helped me understand work to be something that you can be proud of doing when you take a step back and look at it (and even when no one is looking). You can also find new passions in the work that you didn’t sign up for. Like when I had to sell soft drinks, I found it out of character because I thought I had to put up a show, be extra extroverted and “in-your-face.” Now I have assimilated the art of selling in anything I do.

Some of the things I also miss, but never really paid attention to before:

1. Office sounds
2. Dressing up (the best piece of advice I got was from my first boss who said that even if you’re not in the mood, you can still afford to look nice because you never know what the day may bring).
3. Office jokes.
4. The choice to work from home — pre-pandemic, it was so liberating to get to stay at home to work and avoid all the noise and skip your usual work routine. The option to work from home was also one of the company benefits I aspired for. Now, the choice to stay at home has been decided for you. (Naririnig ko sarili ko in my head “diba ginusto mong mag work from home? Eto na.”)
5. Running in Makati after office and finding art in Blanc Gallery, Peninsula Manila.
6. The “after-office” — a local bar in Legazpi Village where I became a regular and saw the same officemates, now friends.
7. FOMO on a Friday night because my work required me to come in on Saturday, or I was too tired or too broke and my only means of commute was by hitching a ride with someone else.

Of course, it is inevitable, too, to think of those things I don't miss about the office. I remember my first month working at another company, also a corporate setting, in BGC, feeling out of place. The first six months were usually my adjustment period, but after that first month, I wanted out. I found myself alone most of the time and missing my comfort zone. I looked to the retail shops and bookstores — I liked Fully Booked, MO_Space, Deli2Go, Case Study — as my places of comfort. It took me a lot of effort to try to get in and ride the wave everyone was in. I finally stopped and just did the job I was there for: managing projects and coordinating with stakeholders, making routine presentation decks and spreadsheets. What surprised me most was the way no one noticed. Nobody asked me how I was doing or if I could join them for lunch. Nobody showed me where I could get the information I needed. Everybody was busy. I wasn’t fresh from college and I didn't need a special welcome, but I think giving someone a sense of belonging still applied at any age.

There was a point when I turned one year in the manufacturing company where I felt I stood out from a room full of busy people. On paper, my credentials were: project management, research, and communication, and making people collaborate (I guess more on the “soft skills” rather than the technical ones). But at this job I doubted what I brought to the table, but felt like I couldn’t do anything about it because I still needed to pay the bills. And to avoid any conflict, I still showed up.

I wasn't a fan of office politics. I was more determined to show up for the work first, then socialize later. I knew I was getting too deep into the system whenever I found myself using corporate buzzwords, like deep dive, synergy, let’s talk about this offline, disrupt the market, circle back. And also, sounding so impersonal on email. The temptation of politics was strong, but I suppose I enjoyed living my truth better and spending my energy building things outside of work. I had started a business of my own working with weavers in Ilocos and building a chapter of a global non-profit for women and non-binary creatives in Manila with my friend, and this brought me fulfillment in the work that mattered to me: uplifting women and making creativity matter.

"Nobody asked me how I was doing or if I could join them for lunch. Nobody showed me where I could get the information I needed. Everybody was busy."

I needed that against the stress of my 20 km commute everyday going home from Makati to Antipolo. That was the exact opposite of my morning commute. I had to go out at 6:00 p.m. sharp so that I could fall in line for 20 to 30 minutes and sit half of my ass inside an unglamorous UV Express next to a stranger while I tried to nap to an Air Supply remix version. If I added heavy rain and payday, I’d most likely come home at 8:30 pm tired, hungry, sweaty, and stinky. I wished I lived close.

I think that the office is always an excellent place of work, but looking back at the offices I’ve been in, its context needs to be renewed. The intent for the workplace could have more to do with the pleasure of being around other people, engaging in conversation, spending time with yourself (because you don’t have to endure the fatigue of traveling that far), and getting to know a community beyond Table_of_organization.pdf. Perhaps now is a good time to restore the office and reinvent it to be more of a home than an empty shell.