Joe Barnes – TMNA Services
Like most businesses, TMNA Services has encountered its share of ominous clouds since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
But for Joe Barnes, assistant vice president of corporate facilities for the Pennsylvania-based company, the silver linings aren’t hard to find. The brightest of all: a $20 million construction project for TMNA’s sister company that Barnes says will be completed on schedule—and give employees a safe and dynamic space in which to work.
Once completed in late 2020, the five-phase project—a new headquarters for Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY)—will showcase a modern, employee-friendly space. When more than 600 of its employees return to work, they’ll benefit from the new layout meeting current safety protocols.
“The project is a better reorganization of the departments, allowing employees to have open communication by bringing departments closer together,” Barnes says, explaining taking down walls and barriers to open the space between underwriting, claims, customer service and marketing.
A subsidiary of international insurance provider Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. which acquired PHLY in 2008 and established TMNA Services in 2012, the company provides professional support services in the insurance industry that enhance productivity for office workers.
Barnes manages all the real estate for TMNA’s U.S. offices, including the project at 1 Bala Plaza for PHLY—the company’s largest internal customer.
Work started in 2017 on the circa-1960 building, leased from NYC-based landlord Tishman Speyer. The oddly curved “J-shaped” structure is home to other tenants, PHLY being the largest. The cost of the joint venture is estimated at $50 million, with PHLY covering its own share through a tenant improvement allowance.
The renovation encompasses 180,000 square feet of office space, including a 4,000-square-foot entry expansion with new stairwells to encourage better interaction and movement between floors—in keeping with the company’s emphasis on health and wellness.
Barnes and his team upgraded the conference rooms to feature more technical capabilities with videoconferencing, quality furniture and equipment such as stand-up ergonomic desks and monitor arms. Other amenities include open floor plans, natural lighting and sound-masking technology.
“Employee comfort and functionality was key in the renovation,” he says. “The vision was to help people feel better about their workspaces, enabling them to focus on being as productive as possible throughout the day.”
The project entailed HVAC upgrades and modernizations; refacing the building; installing energy-efficient windows; and improvements to the outdoor experience.
“We believe modernization and efficiency will pay dividends,” Barnes says.
Like the maestro of an orchestra, Barnes was directing groups of contractors to execute each of the project’s five phases.
“Our team coordinated what should happen first, analyzing what would cause the least amount of disruption,” he says, noting each phase was anticipated to take 24 weeks.
When the project started, the building was home to 20 tenants, and all the employees were still on-site. To be less disruptive during renovations, work was performed at night and some employees were temporarily moved.
Barnes was just about through the third phase—working on the floor housing the company’s underwriting division—when the pandemic hit. The office was shut down for seven weeks until the beginning of May, and only then was limited construction allowed.
Colliding with COVID
Surprisingly, the situation worked to Barnes’ benefit.
An initial challenge during renovation involved making sure that noise and dust didn’t stop employees from conducting business. Once people started working remotely, the office was cleared and contractors made progress.
Now Barnes is working on the last two phases which involve an area for executives, a modern café and conference center.
“With nobody on-site, there were no delays in construction,” he says. “It helped us get back on track from a scheduling perspective.”
The challenge of dealing with the curved wall that was part of the building’s “J-shaped” design meant that square cubicles and desks often they didn’t fit in the space efficiently. By revamping the design, Barnes was able to spread people out more effectively, creating wider aisles (and encouraging better social distancing). Technology-wise he’s added more audiovisual equipment and videoconferencing capabilities for better connectivity to field offices and customers.
“There are a variety of ways people can communicate more effectively,” he says. “Doing this work now has proven to be a huge benefit.”
With the pandemic still affecting work operations, it is unknown when employees will return to the office—but when they do, the space will be ready.
“We’re working on our return-to-work playbook,” he says. “We’ll make any modifications necessary to safeguard everyone.”
Plenty of practice
For Barnes, helping people in professional settings—and knowing what solutions make the most sense—is the result of almost 30 years of on-the-job experience.
After earning a degree in Business Administration and Management from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in 1987, Barnes became a facilities manager for Judge Group, a position he held for 10 years.
In 2003 he stepped into a new role as corporate facilities manager at PHLY, where he handled everything from searching for office space to handling lease agreements and provisions for all office support services.
In 2013, he was named director of corporate facilities at TMNAS. Three years later, he became assistant vice president of corporate facilities—a role that entails maintaining and monitoring 60 offices around the country.
“What I have loved about my work all along is our company’s culture as a service organization, which is something I take to heart,” Barnes says.
When he’s not managing lease acquisitions and locating sites, his time is spent networking and supporting various departments.
“My job is all about building synergies,” Barnes says. “If I can lend my expertise or share resources, I will.”
Admittedly, he says he doesn’t do well sitting still—one of the reasons he enjoys figuring out the riddles of office space. Given the number of offices he manages nationally, there’s no shortage of problems to solve.
“I come to every situation with a customer-centric perspective, observing what they’re doing and how can we make things better, whether it’s from an environmental, cultural, cost-conscious or operational perspective,” Barnes says. “Nothing makes me prouder than to see our team meet all the objectives of our customers. It’s what drives me every day.”
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