NOLI EALA

RUNNING a business during the coronavirus lockdown requires a great deal of attention and discipline. For Jose Emmanuel “Noli” M. Eala, vice-president for corporate affairs at JoyRide (We Move Things Philippines, Inc.), a work-from-home business leader can be effective if he knows how to keep his focus on the specifics of his work amid all the distractions in his environment.

In this interview, which took place over the phone on April 25, Mr. Eala talked about the importance of shifting our minds from family mode to work mode when working from home.

He also discussed how telecommuting can be economical for people and how this setup can help ease traffic in the Philippine capital.

The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED ONLINE MEETING METHOD?
What we use is Zoom. We find it more convenient. It’s also clearer, faster, and simpler, and it also allows us to have multiple parties included in the meeting. We use Zoom to meet with our executive board. We also use it, a couple of times now, to meet with some foreign consultants, and also for our general management team meetings.

PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR HOME OFFICE
I have an attic in my house, so I have this little corner there where I have my computer, printer, work desk, and books. Also, the Wi-Fi is a little stronger in the attic so that’s why I prefer to use it there, and it’s quieter there as well.

WHAT TIME DO YOU START YOUR WORKDAY NOW COMPARED TO BACK WHEN YOU ACTUALLY WENT TO THE OFFICE
I start a little bit later now. I suppose that people expect you to be “at home,” so you can see me not really rushing to get to meetings, unlike before when we would usually have breakfast meetings. Now, I usually begin working at around 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m., and checking e-mails usually comes first. I also do all the reading around that time. If we have a scheduled Zoom meeting, we usually conduct it before lunch, around 11. Before the lockdown, I would usually be out of the house by 7:30 a.m.

HOW CAN BUSINESS LEADERS MANAGE THEIR TIME EFFECTIVELY?
I think we have to be more conscious about our work hours now because there’s more need to be focused considering that we are just at home. I think that’s something that I have kept in mind otherwise I will lose my attention to details and a particular structure of my work life.

Because you are at home, usually you see a lot of other things that you can do in the house that are not work-related. Hence, we should be more focused, and there’s a lot more need to pay attention to details, otherwise you can be very loose in the way you treat things at work.

DO YOU STILL TAKE BREAKS?
Definitely. I think that’s where the focus has to come in because usually at work, when you go to your office, it’s all work-related; but now you’re at home and you’re in family mode all the time, there may be a tendency to attend to other things that are not work-related even during a supposedly working hour. Yes, I do take breaks and that usually means preparing meals as well as helping out in the house.

DO YOU STILL DRESS UP FOR WORK?
Unfortunately no. I don’t dress up for work, but I don’t stay in my pajamas. What I do whenever there’s a Zoom meeting is that I’d at least be in a more acceptable outfit, not necessarily shorts, so I’m still changing to either jogging pants or even a pair of jeans.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM WORKING AT HOME?
First, be adaptable. There are many things in our age already that we are very set on, like we are used to waking up at this time, having coffee, and then leaving at a particular time to be at the office, so I think there is a need to be adaptable under these circumstances. Secondly, there must be some kind of order always in your life — balance. Now that we are at home, we are forced to get to that balance because when you are not at home, you devote a lot of your time to work; but now you get to see that there are many other things that you can do and still be able to be productive.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DISTRACTIONS AT HOME?
You can’t help it. I have kids who are still in their teens, so I can’t help it. Sometimes in my meetings, there could be some background noise. Other than that, they know that I am actually in a meeting. I in fact involve them in some of the work that I do so they can see what is being done. Sometimes, there is a delivery that happens and you have to be called, etc. So yeah, there are distractions. But most of the time, I am able to work through them.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WILL CONTINUE EVEN AFTER THE LOCKDOWN PERIOD?
The best thing about working from home is that there’s no traffic, so immediately you are productive. Also, it is very economical for people. You don’t have to be using up a lot of clothes, you don’t have to use up gas, and you don’t have to waste time in traffic, so it’s very economical. I think this quarantine has taught many of us that, perhaps, to ease traffic in Metro Manila, it might be acceptable to have an alteration of our work schedule, meaning there could be a part of the week when everyone just stays home and works from home because it is working, and I think it is something that should be socially and economically studied so that we can further advance this practice. — Arjay L. Balinbin