Lina Murillo of Perkins&Will: “Every staff member is part of something bigger, and we all have something to contribute”

Encourage your employees to think for themselves and to be supportive of their colleagues’ ideas. Every staff member is part of something bigger, and we all have something to contribute. As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lina Murillo, RID, […]

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Encourage your employees to think for themselves and to be supportive of their colleagues’ ideas. Every staff member is part of something bigger, and we all have something to contribute.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lina Murillo, RID, LEED AP BD+C, Associate Principal, Corporate Interiors.

Rooted in global trends, Lina’s background provides a fresh and forward-thinking perspective on efficient, resilient design. Inspired by her early upbringing in Colombia and her later exposure to diverse markets and cultures, she delivers creative, well-planned spaces that express the fundamental elements of her clients’ visions and reflect how design is a vehicle to contextualize stories. Over Lina’s two decades of experience as an interior architect, she has delivered multiple commercial interiors, hospitality, and workplace spaces in an integrated and collaborative fashion — always emphasizing inclusive and honest design, celebrating novel ideas, and responding to the great privilege of designing for others with pride and rigor. The places she creates, the moments she crafts, and the stories she tells have a design edge that elevates the communities she serves.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My design journey was influenced heavily by my sister’s career as an architect, as she has always been an inspiration to me. I have also been intrigued by the concept of space — specifically, how space can mean different things to different people and the role designers play in that perception. For example in Colombia, where I grew up, much of the country’s design is rooted in the use of simple materials to create an experience, and the simplicity of crafting those experiences has influenced me deeply. In addition to these references, I also always admired mid-century modern architecture, so all of these things combined made design a natural career path for me.

Ultimately, I received my Bachelors Degree in Architecture and then got a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in Interior Design. Architecture and interior design have such a symbiotic relationship, and I don’t believe that one can exist without the other. It’s been exciting and rewarding to explore this relationship more deeply throughout my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Leading the design of Perkins&Will’s Austin studio is an interesting story for me as it epitomized the firm’s values while embarking on the new era of the firm’s branding guidelines. In addition to telling a “color story” through those guidelines, our space became our brand by showcasing a collaborative environment that supports the diversity and resiliency of our staff and different practice areas, and how they are weaved into the Austin community. I think the design process and the space itself opened minds studio and firm-wide surrounding the office and ideas for resiliency in the long-term workplace, so that is a great story for me to tell.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have been working on different projects lately, ranging from tech offices to law firms to hospitality spaces. Today, the interesting thing for me is the challenge that comes along with designing spaces in a COVID world, and how the implications of this can shape the future of space differently for both clients and designers. The idea of reinventing or adapting space to be resilient and ready for change is fascinating to me. The impact these studies can have on people are great and can develop into interesting space typologies that can serve future needs.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

The pandemic hasn’t given us much choice in how we work for the past year. As we see the light at the end of the tunnel, people realize that they can be just as productive outside of the office and are starting to enjoy this added flexibility. The collaboration and socialization that can only be found in an office setting are lost when working remotely. The workforce, and designers, in particular, need to find the balance between these two scenarios.

Furthermore, an office space can be integral in enforcing a company’s identity and maintaining staff connection to the brand. It will be essential to sustain this connection as we move into a hybrid work model.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact:

company productivity

company profitability

and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce won’t be productive or profitable and certainly won’t be healthy! Employee happiness is key to a successful workplace, and to achieve that, employers need to understand the needs of their staff. Leadership needs to listen and be open to suggestions and, ultimately, change to help drive their employees’ success. The employees are the heart and soul of your organization, and you need to take care of them! Without them, there won’t be a company at all.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Open communication is key!

The more mentorship, the better! Push your employees to think outside the box and let them know it’s okay to make mistakes. As we continue to work remotely, we’re losing organic mentorship and those valuable personal connections, and we have to work to preserve that.

Encourage your employees to think for themselves and to be supportive of their colleagues’ ideas. Every staff member is part of something bigger, and we all have something to contribute.

Trust is so, so important. Believing in your employees, and showing them that you trust them, gives them a sense of empowerment, which will help them thrive in the long run.

Give employees choices. When we have options, we don’t feel restricted. Just make sure that choice comes with responsibility!

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Inclusivity and resiliency are the most critical issues that we need to focus on in the workplace, and in a community in general. Those of us in workplace design must approach these projects through a diverse, inclusive lens that affects the people using the space and the surrounding community. If the world starts to think this way, we will eventually live in a world with more equitable design for everyone.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

As a rule, I’m not someone who imposes things on people. I want my employees to think for themselves, and if they fall, they know I’ll be there to catch them. How can we learn if we don’t make mistakes?

I also think of myself as a peer of my staff. While I may have more experience in years, we all ultimately bring different things to the table and learn from each other. This worldview has helped me shape my leadership style into one where I am helping them, and they are helping me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mentors from lauckgroup helped me shape my career, and I am forever grateful to them. Additionally, when we merged with Perkins&Will, working with such accomplished new colleagues allowed me to grow even more and find further mentors within the organization.

And, of course, my family has always pushed me to be better. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them!

How have you used your success to bring good to the world?

Good design brings the best in people. As designers, we have a big responsibility to ensure quality spaces that enhance the human experience. Every client is different, and as we tailor their spaces to strengthen their experience, that is the definition of success. If the client is happy we are happy.

Can you give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be true to yourself and be honest! If you’re honest with yourself, you trust your gut.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Equality and inclusivity are it for me. I want to show the world that design is for everyone! Additionally, I want to use my work to demonstrate that design can be an essential tool for bettering the human experience.

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