Design, People + Places Advisory, People Spotlight, Workplace Design

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a strategist from our People + Places Advisory (PPA) practice in the United States and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Oriana Merlo is an NCIDQ-qualified interior designer and holds LEED AP ID+C, WELL, and Fitwel Ambassador certifications. She has over 40 years of experience as a designer, technologist and strategist. She joined AECOM in 2020, is based in our Boston office, and serves as the practice lead for the PPA group in the New England region.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

My inspiration to join the industry stems from my love for diversity in work. In my current role as a strategist in the People + Places Advisory practice, I get to speak with clients about how they can optimize a variety of spaces, be it offices, airports, schools or hospitals. A lot of the work I do involves listening to people and talking to them about the best way to experience and utilize space — and that’s really interesting. I get to call on a lot of my background and experience, for example in IT, interior design, management and organizational behavior, and using all of those skills every single day.

The most rewarding part of my job is being able to make big differences to the usability or feel of a workspace environment simply by making small changes and witnessing the positive impacts on not just the productivity of the occupants, but more importantly, on their overall health and wellbeing.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

I work with many Federal Government clients in the U.S. Often these departments have highly constrained budgets, so I focus on how I can deliver the best insights, recommendations and solutions to meet their objectives and levels of affordability.   

One of my favorite series of projects I have worked on is for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which works tirelessly to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries that benefit humankind. My work with NASA involved identifying ways they could make savings on their real estate portfolio to be able to allocate more funding towards their various missions for the benefit of research, aeronautics development and space exploration. For example, we’ve created planning guidelines to provide NASA’s facilities teams with a toolset to help plan consolidations, renovations and remodels.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

Sometimes, the greatest impact can come from little changes that can be made. With NASA, we discussed how we could make fiscal savings whilst still creating an inviting and comfortable atmosphere for everyone working in their buildings. We also considered the psychological impact of different types of spaces on productivity. The environment has so much to do with how well the brain works and there are a lot of things you can do to get your brain to think more creatively and have it operate at peak performance. 

We employed some of those tactics to make the work environment even better for NASA employees. For instance, we’re looking at providing a variety of spaces for NASA employees to work in, allowing people to choose where they want to work for any part of the day, based on the task they’re working on.

Providing these services to all clients regardless of size or sector is really fulfilling. Even if the enhancements we implement are small, the impacts on our clients can be huge and it’s great to see that.

Share a piece of career advice.

Never be afraid to try something outside your comfort zone. At worst, you’ll learn a new skill. At best, it can open doors to amazing opportunities that you might have never known existed.

Originally published Jun 21, 2023

Author: Oriana Merlo