Published October 14, 2008

Happy homes, happy workforce

Apart from offering affordable quality homes for Singaporeans, HDB maintains a healthier work-life balance, reports UMA SHANKARI

IN MANY countries, public housing is a dirty word. But in Singapore, HDB flats are able to offer its residents quality lifestyles in quality buildings.

'The HDB has been in existence for over 45 years, and in that time, it has set a blistering pace for public housing,' said Tay Kim Poh, chief executive of the Housing & Development Board (HDB).

HDB flats house over 80 per cent of Singapore's resident population. The success of its public housing programme has enabled Singapore to be a nation of proud home owners. Singapore continues to have the highest home ownership rate in the world, at 91 per cent in 2007.

This year, the HDB is being honoured with the Singapore Quality Award (SQA) with a Special Commendation.

The HDB was the first organisation from the public sector to win the SQA in 1997. Since winning the award, the HDB has been relentless in its pursuit of excellence and innovation and has made numerous changes within the organisation.

'Within the organisation, in 2003, the HDB underwent a major restructuring exercise that saw the divestment of our building consultancy services arm,' said Mr Tay. It also outsourced other activities like Car Parks Enforcement so as to focus on its core function.

But a result of these organisational changes, staff strength was reduced by almost half. Said Mr Tay: 'While the restructuring was successfully carried out, it also disrupted our work processes and affected staff morale.'

Because of this, in the last few years, the HDB had focused its efforts on rebuilding the organisation and restoring staff morale. 'Winning the SQA(SC) shows that these efforts have paid off and that we have transited into a more nimble and adaptive organisation that have achieved excellence at all levels,' said Mr Tay.

In recent years, the organisation has also leveraged on technology to provide innovative and better quality products and services to its customers.

For example, the HDB introduced Ferrolite partition walls which reduced sand usage by 20 per cent and machine-roomless lifts in its buildings. By using value engineering and other productivity tools, the HDB has also achieved significant cost savings in other projects.

But the most critical aspect of the HDB's transformation has been in the area of leadership. It has created a nimble organisation, adaptive and responsive to changes.

In 2007, the HDB launched its HDB2010 Plan to achieve its strategic outcomes for the future. Serving as a rallying point for all staff, the plan brings into sharper focus the initiatives, performance and actions needed for the HDB to move ahead and excel.

Mr Tay clearly believes that people are the HDB's most valued assets: 'These achievements would not have been possible without the efforts of our staff.'

Aiming to be an employer of choice, the HDB's HR philosophy is founded on a holistic work-life framework and an equitable rewards and recognition system to attract, retain and motivate talent and people. Its investments in staff development result in a more professional and able workforce, while its emphasis on work-life balance and harmonious labour-management relations create a stable, healthier and happier workforce.

On the service delivery front, the HDB harnesses the latest technology to deliver convenient and personalised services to its customers. Available now are a host of user-friendly electronic access channels such as HDB InfoWEB, My HDB Page, HomeLink, as well as innovative customer service platforms such as e-Sales, e-Alert, RFID parking disc and electronic bidding of commercial and industrial premises.

Coupled with active solicitation of customer feedback and consultation, the HDB has been able to bring about continuous improvements in its product and service quality.

The HDB's achievements have been affirmed by the many international awards it has picked up.

For example, three of its housing developments bagged top honours in the public sector category of the international FIABCI Prix d'Excellence Awards 2006. And this year, the HDB won the United Nations Public Service Awards - one of the most prestigious recognition of excellence in public service. The only winner in Asia, the HDB was lauded for the excellence of its home ownership programme that has raised housing standards for Singaporeans and improved societal well-being.

In line with this, the conferment of the SQA with special commendation on the HDB is, indeed, a fitting tribute to an organisation that has made excellence its hallmark in serving the people of Singapore, said Mr Tay.

But there are still challenges ahead for the HDB, Mr Tay said: 'The challenges facing the HDB in recent years centre on meeting the higher aspirations of Singaporeans for quality homes.'

The HDB has to continue meeting the diverse needs of the public for affordable, attractive and appealing homes, especially since demand for public flats has spiked over the last couple of years.

'In recent years, we have expanded the range of housing types and successfully managed flat supply and demand by responding to changing situations with the appropriate measures,' Mr Tay said. A wide range of housing types - from the smaller and more affordable two-room flats to higher-end design, build and sell scheme (DBSS) flats with better design and finishes, such as the Pinnacle@Duxton, have been introduced.

The organisation has also refined the flat allocation process to better meet the housing needs of first-time applicants and young couples.

Explained Mr Tay: 'In the recent spike in demand, we have assured home buyers of more build-to-order (BTO) flats coming onstream and advised them to plan ahead. Those who preferred flats in mature estates were advised to look to the wide choice of housing in the resale market.'

The HDB also needs to continually rejuvenate and upgrade its estates to create sustainable living environments, Mr Tay said. For example, it recently launched its Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) blueprint for new, middle-aged and old towns.

New upgrading programmes such as the Home Improvement Programme and Neighbourhood Renewal Programme were also introduced to bring about improvements to the flat and precinct according to residents' needs.

The HDB is also looking to contribute to the social well-being of Singapore and help build cohesive communities in HDB estates, Mr Tay said. Extensive consultations were carried out for estate upgrading and redevelopment programmes to engage the residents. Other community outreach programmes such as welcome parties for residents in newly completed housing precincts, public talks and exhibitions were also implemented.

Summarised Mr Tay: 'Our plans going ahead are to be an outstanding organisation fulfilling the aspirations of Singaporeans for homes and communities that all are proud of.'