Interview Judith Arellano Torres
Images Casas + Architects and CJ Claravall
How is Casas + Architects, Meloy? Tell me what happened to the firm when the pandemic broke out last year (2020).
Carmelo ‘Meloy’ Casas: There have been a lot of changes. What happened then was, since we were attuned with developments before the lockdown, Charlie and I, together with Barbie and the rest of management, knew that something was going to happen, so we were able to anticipate the lockdown in the nick of time. Just in the nick of time so we didn’t panic.
What month did you anticipate it?
Meloy: The lockdown started March 15, right? Two weeks before that.
Start of March?
Meloy: Just by following the news. And because we were traveling, we were concerned and worried because some of the people we were with during our travels in January and February were getting sick.
Oh! They got COVID?
Meloy: There was some indication. And I too—we had been traveling regularly to Davao [a southern Philippines province]. Our client then was Fred Yuson of CWC, who had a joint venture with Cebu Landmasters in Davao. We and Architect Mercado’s firm were part of that big project. We had also just finished Phase 1 of the Lyceum of the Philippines in Davao. Remember, this was in January-February. On the plane, ang dami naming kasamang Chinese (there were many Chinese nationals with us).
And I got sick. We don’t know whether it was COVID or not, but it felt like the flu, a nasty one, which had never happened to me before, being bedridden, and I felt, “Ano ba ito? Ang sakit ng katawan ko!” (“What is this? My body’s aching!”)
In Davao, I was having breakfast with one of the chief architects of Rolly Mercado and one of my directors, Jim. And then in March, I just heard from Jim, “Uy, Meloy, you know the guy that we were having breakfast with? He died.”
I said, “What?” The guy I was having breakfast with died of COVID.
What did you do?
Meloy: We had a town hall. We called everybody a week before the lockdown, and we told them, “Hey, this might come to a lockdown. We will have to work from home.” And how do we do that? We allowed them to bring home their equipment. Everybody’s linked to our server so everybody’s work can be monitored from the office.
There have been many good things that came out of it.
Meloy: Because of the lockdown, the work efficiency of the people improved. Why? Because there’s no more traveling time.Because of Zoom, you get to really know the people you’re working with. I saw very closely how people worked and communicated with clients… Maybe because now, they have to participate actively. Because before, I’d do the talking. But currently, on Zoom, they participate in the discussion. Sometimes, we even delegate that they present our work to the client online. And that’s the blessing in disguise. The lockdownalsoforced us to be really results-oriented, closely monitoring output vis-à-vis man-hours. We are capable of even finding out their communication with the outside world. Yes, yes.
What, you read their Viber messages, that sort of thing?
Meloy: No, but we check on their communications because, same as before, we demand that their time is company time. Business hours are for business. We want to be sure their use of the equipment and our communication network is strictly for work.
How can you tell?
Meloy: I’ll leave it to Charlie to give you the details!
Charlie: Using basic tools such as Google forms, our managers keep track of their presence online in real-time. On top of this, we implemented a review process assessing the productivity of the staff. But this has been a tedious process for our supervisors, which prompted us to look for an advanced software tool that can monitor staff activities on their PCs or laptops during work hours. The software can tell you who are productive and those who are surfing outside the official work programs. We’ll be implementing it April 8, 2021, and it will justify the continuation of the work-from-home setup beyond the pandemic situation or even as things start to normalize.
Del Castillo: To ensure productivity during the pandemic with the work-from-home setup, we have production managers whose sole responsibility is to distribute workload, check attendance, and check the output of our staff daily.
Also, we have always had a culture of accountability long before the pandemic. It is ingrained in our staff. In fact, the moment employees are idle or about to finish a task, they message or call their supervisors to ask for more work! This is something we are proud of.
But, of course, there have been adjustments. For example, we are more flexible now with our staff’s time-in and time-out, considering different factors such as internet connection and personal chores that have to be done. Some of our team prefer to work at night, and we allow it. What is important is tasks are completed.
How do you deal with underperformers?
Charlie: We still conducted performance evaluations similar to previous years. During this pandemic, we observed that underperformers redeemed themselves as they became highly focused, most probably due to the restricted conditions, such as limited breaks and supervisors’ ability to concentrate on review processes. Staff activities suddenly are under a magnifying glass, as supervisors can easily keep track of output and performance.
Del Castillo: For underperformers, we assess the reasons for the poor performance first by talking to them. Perhaps they are dealing with a personal problem, loss of motivation, or technical difficulties. We first help our staff to overcome these before reprimanding them.
Performance evaluation last year was conducted as per usual. Each employee was evaluated by their supervisor in three main categories—technical skills, interpersonal skills, and core values. Yes, most of our staff have become more productive in the work-from-home setup. Not only were daily commutes eliminated, which could take up to a total of four hours a day for some, but the travel time between meetings was also eliminated. In the past, we had to allow an hour between meetings for travel. Now we can transfer from one meeting to another in a matter of seconds.
Have you also been able to monitor their mental health? Has HR said anything about that?
Meloy: You know, that’s a very relevant topic. I have a daughter who, even before the pandemic, was already working from home. She works for an American firm but is based here in the Philippines. I was so amazed at how the firm showed their concern for their employees’ mental health.
My daughter was telling me, “You know, Dad, you really have to take care of your people’s mental health.”
I said, “Why? Eh, wala namang sira ulo dito (We don’t have any crazies).”
And she explained to me the stresses that people go through. Then, we had an actual case here in the office where an employee submitted a medical certificate indicating she had some mental health issues. The doctor recommended that she take a break from work. She had suffered a breakdown, something like that. Nakakaawa kasi (I felt bad because)she was one of our scholars in UST [the University of Santo Tomas] from second-year college up to graduation, and she was doing great in the firm.
It’s hard to help when you don’t see them face-to-face.
Meloy: Exactly. Exactly. It’s so hard. You know, in the normal world, I would have called her to my office and talked to her—be the crying shoulder that I am to my guys. But now, you can’t do that. And I feel so guilty.
How have you dealt with employees who are feeling despondent or depressed?
Charlie: Several employees experienced and are still experiencing anxiety attacks, depression, and other mental health issues. We are thankful they were honest and brave enough to bring it to our attention. One way we support them is assure them that management will help the medical requirements financially as part of their medical benefits. We also found out that some staff had pre-existing conditions such as bipolar disorder, which the pandemic aggravated. Two of our staff were advised by their doctors to take a rest.
Del Castillo: We encourage the different teams to meet online for pleasure apart from work to not lose that sense of camaraderie and being part of a team. E-numans (cocktails on Zoom) are always fun and a great way to get to know the staff, especially those hired during the pandemic. We also have continued with our townhall meetings involving the entire workforce.
Has anyone from the firm gotten COVID?
Meloy: One family was affected. The parents got COVID. Ourprotocol isyou have to divulge when you get sick. Don’t keep it from us so we can also be of help.Another case was husband and wife were infected, but their children and their live-in mother-in-law were not. That was tough! They could not be confined in the hospital. They were managing it themselves within the confines of the apartment. You know how hard that is. That’s why we gave them a break.
“Don’t work first,” we said. Take a rest. In the meantime, your salary will be there.” Because it could happen to anybody, including ourselves, ‘di ba? We also want to be treated that way. ‘Di ba?
What values are most important to the firm?
Meloy: That hasn’t changed. Honesty, integrity, excellence, dedication, and loyalty.
How do you inculcate values like excellence and integrity when you don’t see each other every day?
Charlie: We remind our staff about accountability. At the end of the day, the staff’s output will justify the time he or she declared in the daily time record. We approve overtime pay under the work-from-home setup because we know and trust our staff that it is necessary to complete the work and that it is highly competent work.
How about hiring? Has that changed since we last spoke?
Meloy: You’ll be surprised because we heard other firms cut down workload and salaries by 30 percent. Charlie and I were asking ourselves, “How can we do that?”We felt uncomfortable doing it. It’s either nothing at all or everything. During the lockdown, 29 of our projects stopped. 2-9.
Meloy: That alone would make you panic, right. But when we looked at the ongoing projects, we could not think of retrenching. I mean, it’s like a false economy, eh. You retrench, then you hire people again to meet the demand of the projects. What for? So, we retained all of them. Wala kaming ni-retrench. And as a matter of fact, we even had to hire because of the demand of the work.
Charlie: Initially, we thought of not renewing our project hires when their contracts expired. But this did not push through because the requirements of the ongoing projects required the full utilization of our existing manpower complement. We even had to hire additional staff during the last quarter of 2020 to ensure we would meet our committed project deliverables’ deadlines. Our workforce increased by 15 percent from the start of the pandemic.
Meloy: Yeah. I was surprised when Charlie told me our workforce increased by 15 percent!
Charlie: We hope to sustain this manpower complement hoping that 2021 is an improvement over last year.
Del Castillo: One advantage today is that we are no longer limited to applicants who live in or near the Makati CBD due to the work-from-home setup. We have discovered new talents from faraway places such as Baguio [a city 250 kilometers away from Metro Manila].
Meloy: It is a good thing. Before, pag sinabing, “Ay, nakatira sa Baguio.” Patay. Papano ‘yan? Layo, wag na natin kunin. (Before, when someone says, “Oh, he/she lives in Baguio.” Perish the thought. How could that work? Too far, let’s not hire them). But now, we have three employees working in Baguio. ‘Di ba, ang sarap? (Isn’t it great)?
Charlie: Hiring now has definitely changed since 2016. Before, we were willing to train new graduates in software like Revit, which most students in the Philippines are unfamiliar with. We had the luxury of time back then to train and develop apprentice and architecture interns.
Now, applicants must first pass our Revit exams, and when they start to work with us, they are expected to contribute immediately to the production team’s output. We do not have the luxury of training the basics. Architects equipped with special skills are easy to find now than in the past when jobs were many and available. We have been lucky to find specialists during these pandemic times.
Meloy: The downside is, there are new employees I have not met. I told them during our Christmas meet and greet to show themselves onscreen, so I know how they look, right. But they were wearing masks, so I still couldn’t see their faces! [Laughs] So, there’ve been pros and cons.
We hope to sustain this if the situation in 2021 improves. Now, we’re not there yet, as you know. There’s still a lot of uncertainty. We’re not saying we have all the answers, and I’m not saying that we will not retrench. All I’m saying is as of now, January 7, 2021, we’re okay.
As a matter of fact, early in the lockdown, there was some resistance from our employees asking for overtime pay. We said, “What? We have so much time now, and you still need overtime?” And then, we realized why.
Meloy: Sometimes, it’s because of the poor internet connection. The connection is better late at night and early in the morning. They said, “Can we do the work at nighttime?” Then we also saw the clients’ demand, so no choice but to pay overtime as well.
How did you manage when 29 of your projects stopped?
Meloy: The people assigned to those 29, we reassigned to ongoing projects. That really helped. We no longer had to worry about staffing those projects. Remember, our biggest asset is our people. You know that. In 2016, we told you that, and now it’s provenif you take care of your people, if you earnestly communicate, they will understand.
The important thing is showing a genuine concern for their welfare. And most especially is to really just listen to them, what their problems are. Show that kind of attention—talagang kailangan mag-communicate lang eh (Communication is vital). We update them every now and thento let them know the company’s situation is.
As a matter of fact, before the lockdown, some, intending to move to other firms, served their resignations. Obviously, it did not happen. So, they asked us, “Can we stay?”
Well… eh, may pinagsamahan naman kami (we have history), so we said, “Okay. Your performance is good; we like you; we retain you.” Oh, yes.
With overtime pay, even.
Meloy: Yes. That’s why I’m very thankful to the clients who’ve been supporting us, giving us a break. Our clients are also our landlords, as you know. They gave us concessions with rent.
You’re talking about Cebu?
Meloy: Here too, in Paseo Center. Our client, also our landlord, is Megaworld. They own this building. We’re in constant communication on how we can help one another.
Still, did you eat into savings, or did you have enough revenue to hire 15% more people and pay overtime?
Meloy: You know, my COO is a banker. Charlie is quite strict. Things don’t move unless we’re sure we can pay. So, to your question, my answer is both. It was from the fees and, you know, during the lockdown, we realized that we were so negligent with collections. Really. Everybody was in the same boat. I talked to other architects, engineers, they said: “Oo, ang unang-unang ginawa namin was to collect (Yes, the very first thing we did was collect).’
We were so kampante na wala namang mangyayari (We were so confident nothing bad would happen). We gave clients 30 days, 60 days, one year—hindi nagbabayad (they weren’t paying).Now, we cannot. We really had to tell them, “You know, you have to pay.” Thankfully, most of them did. That gave us a lot of cushion. Also, the sacrifices that we had to make…
Meloy: Well, like you said, sometimes, we had to expose our investments to meet our financial requirements. So, yes, we touched our investments to pay our employees. But most of the money came from fees. We also had savings because we no longer had entertainment expenses. We didn’t have aChristmas party, no companyouting. So those savings we put to other use.
Our employees, too, have been sacrificing. It is tough for them to work from home, especially if you live in a 20-square-meter apartment with a child. We can see that. Hirap na hirap sila, naaawa kami. It’s been tough on them. That’s why I’m here in the office every Tuesday and Thursday because I really miss it. So, I tell them,if you’re safe, if you’re okay, join me here twice a week.
But there’s a limit to the number of people who can come, right? How many percent go to the office?
Meloy: Less than 10%. Why? Because we don’t want them taking public transportation. We have our office protocol and agreement. Number 1, if you don’t feel well, don’t go. If you don’t have your own transportation, don’t go either.
Charlie: Employees come to the office only if they need to perform functions which they cannot do at home such as blueprinting, preparation of material boards, review, and inspection of the building or interior design materials, signing of drawing plans, review of design drawings, etc. Some would come to the office as often as once a week, while others come here only once a month or two.
Meloy: Out of our limited capacity, we have shuttle services. We have a fleet of drivers here. Actually, those drivers sleep here on weekdays. We pick up employees by appointment, with a day’s notice, and we pick them up as far as Antipolo, Malabon [one to two hours’ drive]. We have project site meetings as far away as Clark because we’re the interior-designer-of-record of the Clark International Airport.
How many shuttles do you have?
Meloy: Five vans. My secretary lives in San Pedro, Laguna. She needs picking up. Charlie comes inevery day with the management team. Admin, too, is here almost every day.
Meloy: So long as you have ongoing projects, there’s a lot of day-to-day work. Projects need to be administered and managed. Accounting has its own room. Charlie has his own room. I mean, we have 1,000 square meters of an office. We have the whole floor. That’s why we’re able to house our drivers here and some utility workers. We have showers inside the toilets, so they can live here safely. We limit their contact with the outside world.
Has the pandemic highlighted the need for skills you hadn’t prioritized before?
Meloy: The challenge is finding people with technical skills who also have communication skills. Mahirap talaga (It’s difficult) to find those people. It’s imperative nowadays, especially as we continue to deal with foreign consultants, British, American… I notice that Filipinos on Zoom are still shy. Even if they can speak English, they’re shy in front of other nationalities. You just have to overcome that.
Does the office have ways of helping them?
Meloy: Some years ago, we hired a guy from Speech Power, remember? The setback is this pandemic. We could not continue our training last year, which we intend to do this year, even online. Before, our priority was for people to catch up with technical skills like Revit. Right now, we’re not investing in training them. We’re investing in people who already have the skills.
Charlie: This was our major frustration last year—we did not conduct a single training program for our staff. We were focused on the work-from-home setup and delivering our commitments on time. The clients’ demands for online Zoom or video conference meetings have grown such that it eats up a lot of the time of our architects.
However, there were online webinars, and we enrolled selected staff. Obviously, outside local and international webinar offerings were easy to find and facilitate rather than activating your own training programs, for which we need to coordinate with several parties. For CPD points, for example, a Professional Regulation Commission representative must witness the firm’s conduct of the training program, accredit the participants outside of the firm, etcetera. For 2021, however, we centralized training and development under designated heads, and we expect the rollout of several standard and specialized training programs.
Del Castillo: We have taken the time to plan extensively for training in 2021, and we are committed to providing CPD accredited training for our staff this year.
How has the pandemic affected working with foreign consultants? Are they still as swift to respond as you recounted back in 2016?
Del Castillo: They are not only as swift but are swifter. It’s almost unbelievable! In turn, we have to work faster to not cause any delays. I think this is common in the industry today. There is a greater sense of urgency brought about by uncertainty. For ongoing projects, the whole team is trying to finish deliverables as quickly as possible while the situation allows, just in case the pandemic worsens.
Okay. Meloy, what was a typical day like in 2020, and what is it like so far in 2021?
Meloy: You know me, I’m a workaholic, I’m sorry to say. But 2020 gave me a good time to reflect on our pace. My wife and our close clients advised me to take it easy. “You’re not getting younger!” [Laughs] But I work a lot from home. That hasn’t changed.
On the first workday of 2021, January 4, I called my designers to the office to lay out all my work for them to carry on, you know. And they were surprised. They were probably thinking, “Doesn’t this guy have a life?” Well, I have no life but work! [Laughs]
What work did you show them?
Meloy: Drawings, studies of the new projects. Some were for a competition, so I gave them my thoughts for them to develop. We brainstormed, and I was so happy to hear different outlooks, different perspectives. That is the beauty of it. You think you have all the answers, but then you listen to your people, telling you, “Sir, what if we do this? What if you do that?” And you say,“Right, right! Why not? Go ahead, do it.”
You did that face-to-face, right?
Meloy: Yeah, yeah. The way we used to.
There’s something special about collaborating face-to-face, right?
Meloy: Oh, yeah. I told that to my people and to Charlie. Because Charlie doesn’t want me coming here all the time, you know, because of my health. But I really need that facetime. I’m so low-tech. On Zoom,I have difficulty communicating, annotating onscreen. I have to describe what I want. But in person, it’s so easy, ‘di ba? No substitute for it. So, I come here twice a week. One of our clients told me, “Why don’t you come on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“So that you have a long weekend.” Friday to Monday becomes a long weekend. And I’m really enjoying it. With my family, with my apo [grandchild], with my golf, because I play regularly with my wife. And I work at home. Thursday, everyone has to turn in their work so I can bring it home and work on it.
Tell me about your Mission-Vision. When I interviewed you in 2016, Casas + Architects was still finalizing it.
Meloy: Our mission is to provide quality in our craft and uphold a standard of perfection to best serve our clients. Going beyond expectations, we envision our team of diversified talent to work in harmony within and outside the firm. We will always be guided by our moral principles: honesty, integrity, excellence, dedication, and loyalty.
In 2016, we drew up a five-year plan. We were getting invitations to work overseas, but I said no. I didn’t want to. We were too busy here. And we said, ‘Why not concentrate on Philippine operations?’ That was the time we opened an office in Cebu. And we said by 2020, we should have already covered Visayas and Mindanao. 2020, we were ready to layout on the table our achievements of that five-year-plan. Number 1, better financial results. We had a new office in Cebu. And the past five years ha, we had lots of good projects in the Visayas and Mindanao. Primarily from the clients here, but also from Cebu and Davao. It gives us an immediate advantage when developers learn we an office in Cebu. And then, siempre, nanganganak ‘yon (naturally, one project leads to another).
One thing nice in Cebu is our clients are so young, they could be my sons and daughters. And they’re all friends, so they talk among themselves. Once you perform well, word-of-mouth spreads. They’ve brought us to different regions of Visayas and Mindanao.
How many employees do you have in the Cebu office?
Meloy: Since we opened in 2016, we started with four and now have nine. We did not add any staff in 2020 due to the pandemic. We have a 146-square-meter office in MSY Building, which we designed, with a Michelin star restaurant on the ground floor.
Yes! Pig & Palm.
Meloy: The owner of the building is the Yeung family. Carlos Yeung is a Hong Kong national. The daughter, Carla Yeung, married to a British guy, brought in the restaurant partner, the Michelin star chef.
And Neri&Hu to do the interior design.
Meloy: Yes. Very well done. The building isn’t huge, 15 floors. It’s located in Cebu Business Park eh, so it’s a business environment, very nice. We hope to maintain it. We’re negotiating for a better deal, although during the lockdown, they did give us concessions.So, I really need to play my violin, wear my dancing shoes, pray, and plead for a better deal.
We want to continue our operations in Visayas and Mindanao. There’s a lot of potential growth there. Even the developers here are also concentrating on Visayas-Mindanao, and I’m talking about Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Daet, and Cebu, of course. We hope that they will continue the projects so that those projects are ready to operate by 2023, when the pandemic is over.
Charlie: We continue to do diversified projects in the Vis-Min area like hotels, resorts, office, commercial, retail, and residential projects. We are bullish that our Cebu office will play a significant role in 2021, as most Manila-based clients are focusing on expanding their businesses in the Vis-Min region.
Meloy: In the early part of the pandemic, we undertook several new master planning projects. Why master planning? Because this is the time you want to look at idle lands to be developed. And we know that master planning can lead us to new architectural projects, the vertical ones. After the horizontal, developers will think about the vertical, and we would say, “Can we do it for them?”
We expanded our services and the different departments in our office. We now have an institutionalized production team that runs independently—they’re under a separate corporation. And we have a group for model making. That’s why we increased employment. We saw this by comparing notes with the foreign consultants and other architectural groups.
Meloy, how come you haven’t given up your 1,000-square-meter space?
Meloy: I know. Maybe we will get there. For now, the comforting thing is that we know the landlord; perhaps we can do another sweetheart deal. As Charlie tells me, “Okay, what can we do? The people still cannot come to work. We cannot force them to come without the vaccine, without safe transportation, and they already brought home their equipment.
But the worst part was we had just finished renovating our office. Everything brand new. You should see it. Remember, we had low partitions? Well, the partitions are gone. ‘Yon pala, ‘yon ang ayaw ng pandemic. So, sayang ‘yong dati namin ‘di ba? (Turns out an open plan is terrible in a pandemic. So, it’s a shame our partitions are gone. [Laughs] Brand new chairs, brand new PCs, everything.
They even want us to give them our chairs. I was willing. Charlie said, no. Kasi naawa naman ako. Sabi nila, “Ang hirap naman magtrabaho sa bahay nang walang tamang chair.” Tama naman talaga, ‘di ba? (I feel for them. They said, “It’s hard to work from home when you don’t have the right chair.” They’re right, right? I just have to convince my COO. [Laughs]
What kind of chairs are they anyway?
Meloy: Vitra, Herman Miller. From Fred Yuson’s CWC.
Oh, no wonder!
Meloy: But seriously, Charlie’s reason for not allowing them to take the chairs is that our office will more look empty and staff who come to the office will still need the chairs.
How about the seven keys to keeping employees happy? Do those still hold true? Any changes?
Meloy: No changes. First and foremost, they still have a job. And you know, last Christmas, we announced they will get their 14th-month bonus. Better than holding on to it, then you’ll feel guilty. Because they really did the work that kept us afloat.
And I give credit to Charlie because it was his decision. I rely on him when it comes to money. If he feels that we can afford it, why not? 13th-month pay is mandatory, ‘di ba, by the government. We gave that out in May or June. But the 14th-month was really out of our hearts. You know, we survived! We want to share with you our fruits. And we’ve been telling them their physical and mental health is the priority for us to work together.
Charlie: We are happy that all our staff understands the situation we are in. They understand the need to be patient at this time. They, too, have had their share of sacrifice and suffering, particularly those whose family members were afflicted by the COVID virus. They are thankful the company remains strong and provides food on the table in these difficult and trying times. It is absolutely true our people are our priority.
Meloy: Now, for the very special people, we also had to give them the 15th month!
Meloy: Oo, kasama na ako don (Yes, I’m one of them). [Laughs]
Of course! You’re really special. I salute you.
Meloy: But numbers-wise, Judith, this is what Charlie said. That in 2020, we were ready to announce that we were able to reach our financial target. But because of the pandemic, we’ll now go back to the numbers of 2018.
Meloy: ‘Yon ang tinatanong mo. Anong effect noong 29 projects na nawala? Eh ‘di siempre, no more income, ‘di ba? (That’s what you were asking. What’s the impact of 29 projects lost? Obviously, no more income, right?) The only thing that hasn’t changed is taxes. Income tax. They came here early October to assess us, you know.
What are your projections for 2021?
Meloy: We cannot stop hoping that it will be better, but we also have to be prepared. Today, and yesterday, when we were monitoring what’s happening in the world, it doesn’t look bright because of this variant. You know this virus that is changing itself, right? And now, in the newspaper, meron na rin pala tayo (we have a variant too). We just cannot help but be cautious, very vigilant. Don’t stop praying, di ba? That’s another thing. Because of the pandemic, we have become more spiritual. No choice, eh, really.
Charlie: One thing about the Filipino people is our resilience. Our patience allows us to endure and overcome hardships and difficulties. It is impossible for such character to not recover. So we are very optimistic about our future. International financial institutions predict Asia and the emerging markets will recover in 2021. This pandemic can be the worst thing that ever happened in our lifetime, but this will soon end. The more we are optimistic in our current state, the faster we will turn around.
When I interviewed the three of you six years ago, you said Meloy was serious about grooming potential successors as more employees mature with the firm. Do you now have candidates, and how are they being groomed?
Charlie: We currently have ten project directors directly in charge of projects. All of them are candidates as successors.
Del Castillo: Most of the ten [Del Castillo is one of them] have been with us for ten years or longer, having started as project architects, so they are home-grown. One significant change we recently adopted is each director is now in charge of their own departments, such as Research, Technology & Innovation, Training, Masterplanning, Sustainable Design, Project Management, and Construction Administration, to name a few. Directors are responsible for bringing in new projects through marketing, liaising directly with clients, ensuring quality service from start to finish, and bettering their own departments.
Charlie: This is the right time to nurture the directors to step up and eventually assume the role of company head. Among the many, one is expected to stand out. We are very optimistic that the time will come.
Last words, Charlie? Meloy?
Charlie: I’m proud to say that Meloy’s foundation, Carmelo T. Casas Foundation, Inc., has produced thirteen architecture graduate scholars, mostly from the University of Santo Tomas and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and that all of the graduate scholars are currently working for the firm. The foundation’s scholarship program with these universities started in 2017 and is still ongoing to this date. [Note: Due to the pandemic, universities have temporarily stopped sending nominations for scholarship grants.]
Meloy: Since you asked about my mission in the coming years. We’ve been designing school campuses and buildings. The University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, and Lyceum of the Philippines University are the major ones. I would like to reserve a portion of my time to help them out with their curriculum. I’ve never been a teacher, but I want to give them some advice. Spend time with them. We found out the Philippines is lagging behind in education. Because now that we designed their campuses, I know how they’re thinking. Right now, for example, we just mapped out the new College of Architecture and Engineering of Lyceum of the Philippines in Cavite. It’s time to give back. That’s my mission. •
Casas + Architects 7 Keys to Keeping Employees Happy
Communication is the master key. The keys below won’t work without two-way communication.
Nothing makes people leave faster than a dead-end job. Regularly talk to them about their performance and career opportunities. Help them plan their path within the firm.
Training and development
Set challenging goals and high-performance standards for all, and support employees with the training and skills development to succeed. Success breeds confidence and more success.
Recognition and reward
One of the biggest downers is to work hard yet not receive credit, thanks, or acknowledgment. Public praise before one’s peers and superiors is one of the sweetest motivation boosts employees can receive. Timely and deserved bonuses and promotions tell workers they are truly appreciated.
Not holding an employee accountable for bad performance or behavior offends people’s sense of fair play, causes low morale within the workforce, and loss of credibility of the leaders. A boss who holds himself accountable to subordinates is giving them respect, which goes a long way in inspiring loyalty.
Inclusion in the vision
Tell the team about the company’s direction and rally them to your goals. Making employees feel they are part of something bigger, and that their contributions can make a difference gives them a sense of purpose and belonging, and fulfills the human need to be needed.
Employees appreciate knowing where the firm is going and the reasons for directions and policies. It is frustrating to work in an environment where you don’t understand the rules; you don’t know how to advance, or even where the company is headed.
The personal touch
People need to know who they’re following. It’s hard to transmit values and engender loyalty when the leader is a cold and distant figure. This is especially true in small firms. In large firms, people understand the big boss isn’t always within reach. So the managers who interact with them closely must represent the boss faithfully.