Workation in Manila, Philippines

Through my participation in the Merkle DACH Foundation Program I took the chance to work from the Philippines between May 26 and June 15, 2023. I decided for this to meet the people and our colleagues there and to get closer and bridge the gap to the Merkle Philippines operations, for the ‘Off-shore’ experience and other day-to-day challenges, and to get to know (and understand?) Filipino life better.

I did not ask for a VIP package, just the regular pace of things like my colleagues do and I quickly became their favourite AFAM. The people became friends, the offices are not so different (though on the 30th floor), but ‘Off-shore’ and day-to-day life is a whole different ballpark – at least for us Central Europeans. And I do understand a bit better now.

First things first

I spent three weeks in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It actually consists of 16 cities and the region of Metro Manila has around 13.5m inhabitants within 636km2 (compare to Switzerland: 8.7m, and 41’285km2).

Our offices are in Makati and Taguig /BGC (Bonifatius Global City) within Wework co-working setups. And there is a new office in the South in Cebu City (different island). The offices are modern, stylish, in huge skyscrapers; you find all the amenities a modern workplace needs. There is phone booths, meeting rooms, common areas, beer taps, kitchens, and a lot of other small and medium companies. Check.

Day-to-day challenges

In Southeast Asia you do expect heat and humidity. Manila isn’t different.
On day 2 of my trip I was checking CNN weather. It said ‘Temperature: 35°C, feels like 42°C’. Jep, that’s why I was taking a shower 3x a day on average.

In June rainy season starts. Humidity goes up, and you can expect at least one big thunderstorm every other day. And when it rains, it pours.
On day 2 of my trip the first Taifun warning of the season was raised (actually Super-Taifun class), but luckily it decided to stay away from Metro Manila with no impact besides stronger winds.

The Philippines are also part of the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’. On day 3 of my trip (while in the hotel, also 30th floor) there was a big TOCK-TOCK around 10PM. Hmm, was that an earthquake? Arriving in the office the next morning I checked with the colleagues. They didn’t remember it, but we confirmed it actually was a little one – just 4.6 on the scale (another 6.2 one happened on my last day, including some evacuations in Makati).

Also, the second most active volcano in the Philippines, Mount Mayon, decided to become active during my trip, causing local evacuations. Luckily 700km away from Manila, so there was no direct impact.

Timezones and ‘Off-shore’

Last but not least the most predictable challenge: there is a difference of +6hrs between Philippines Standard Time (PST) and Central European Time (CET), so Manila is 6hrs ahead of us. Our colleagues fully adapt to us here in Europe, meaning their (work)day starts around Noon and ends quite late.

What I quickly realized: this has a significant impact on (social) life. Since everything around you ‘works’ normal, daily chores and running errands have to happen in the morning. And you don’t easily go for an afterwork beer b/c that’s basically in the middle of your work day. Also, in a business district like Makati things like shops and restaurants close at regular business hours. So you are left with fast food or snacks for dinner as the only option most of the time.

Since I was able to, I did adapt: a shorter ‘morning shift’ to catch-up with everything from the day before. Then go out and explore the buzzing city and my surroundings by foot. And in the early afternoon I joined the team in the office when they started their work day.

What did I learn or understand?

Again, Manila is just HUGE. And with that comes traffic, lot’s of traffic. Cars, motorbikes, Jeepneys, buses… combined with constant noise of roaring engines, honking, sirens. All day, all night. Now add rain or even thunderstorms, and this becomes worse. And the Jeepneys are usually semi-open, at least on the sides (no windows).

Power drops are quite common. And mother nature does whatever she likes anyhow. Since I did only experience the inner city, I can only imagine how traffic, weather, etc. affects rural areas.

And then it comes to the people;

  • who like to come to the office (some even every day), who take that tough commute.
  • who love to hang out, exchange, talk, have snacks together.
  • who are super curious about Europe and how things are different.
  • who have a blast when going out on a Friday night with the AFAM (‘A foreigner around Manila’, formerly known as ‘A foreigner assigned in Manila’) to show him restaurants and bars off the beaten path.
  • those people who try to convince you to visit their home-province first, while sharing their afternoon snacks with you.
  • those people, who send you tons of hints and tips around the city where to go and what to check out… even though you only have three weeks time.

Those people or colleagues who became friends, I learned a lot from and who helped me understand better. Who helped me get this big bucket full of impressions.

(and I will be back for more, the beaches, waves, and nature – for sure)

Marami akong natutunan, salamat sayo.

RCBC Plaza Tower 2 (30th floor)
6819 Ayala Ave, Makati, 1227 Metro Manila, Philippines