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Experimentation and innovation all in a day's work at this public service agency

As society's challenges evolve, public servants at forward-looking organisations like the CPF Board have to quickly adapt to the unexpected and be bold to try new ideas

At the heart of the CPF Board's efforts is the commitment to public service. PHOTO: CPF BOARD

Handling 900,000 phone enquiries from members of the public a year, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board is a key contact point between Singaporeans and the Government.

When another government body was inundated by Covid-19 related calls in October last year, the CPF Board responded quickly to lend its expertise in call centre management, providing the use of its telephony system, the phone lines and supporting technology.

Leading the team was Ms Maple Chang, Director (Customer Contact Centre). 

"At that point, we had our own operations to grapple with and we didn't have spare manpower to go around. But it was immediately clear that there was a national-level effort where we could really lend our strengths," she says.

Within a week, Ms Chang and her team rose to the challenge and worked with other government agencies to increase the capacity of the Ministry of Health General Enquiries hotline. Binding her and her teammates was a strong sense of purpose to serve Singapore and fellow Singaporeans during unprecedented times.

Leading her team to work with other government agencies to serve Singapore gives meaning to Ms Chang's career at the CPF Board. PHOTO: CPF BOARD

Modern spaces for hybrid work

Today, eight months later and as Covid-induced pressures ease, the 2,500 CPF Board employees are returning to offices that have been renovated and refitted to meet the demands of the future of work. While most employees worked from home under a hybrid arrangement in the past two years, the Board used the time to invest in new infrastructure, systems and processes to facilitate telecommuting in the long run.

The Board’s new hybrid work arrangement is going down well with the staff.

"Personally, I love this arrangement because it provides a mix of days on which I work from home and days where I come into office for collaborative meetings," says Mr Mark Teo, Assistant Director (Business Incubator and Accelerator Department), about the Board's hybrid work policy.

He works across departments to train colleagues and provide guidance for innovation as the Board's "innovation coach", a new role created around July last year.

When he joined the organisation six years ago as a manager in the Business Transformation Programme Office, his remit was to make processes more efficient and effective. As the needs of CPF members evolved, so did his work.

"Instead of just transforming our operational processes, we saw a greater need to bring in digital tools," says Mr Teo.

Mr Teo finds satisfaction in picking up new skills and playing a part to improve the digital experience of CPF members. PHOTO: CPF BOARD

Digital transformation in the time of Covid-19

The pandemic and rapid digitalisation has resulted in CPF members expecting greater ease and personalisation when transacting with the Board.

Mr Teo’s department expanded quickly as the Board turned its focus to the innovation of digital services and the building of in-house digital tools to provide the best digital experience for members.

It was a steep learning curve, but Mr Teo relished the challenges and felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

"I had to take a few courses, including product management and web design. I didn’t come from an IT background so I had to learn things like JavaScript," he says, adding that he studied materials engineering at university.

He received invaluable support from his employer as he moved into his new role.

"The Board not only funded me for all these courses but gave me the time and space to explore them on my own," says Mr Teo, who was given the Exemplary Trainer Award in 2021 for his efforts.

The first of the two key projects Mr Teo helped implement during the pandemic was the roll-out of the use of digital signatures for forms. The second was a more fundamental digital shift, involving the phasing out of hard-copy letters, hard-copy forms and supporting documents. These initiatives helped to provide more convenient options and an improved experience for the Board’s 4.1 million members.

"With the heightened focus on digitalisation, we took the chance to push the bar; rather than just seeing whether people can submit forms digitally, we worked to see how we could make all our correspondences be defaulted to digital instead of sending out letters," he says.

Exploring new ways to engage members

In recent years, the Board has also ramped up efforts to engage its members and help them make the most of their CPF savings, using new digital content formats and popular social media platforms.

To create higher quality videos and digital assets in a more agile manner, Ms Diviya Dharshini was called to head the newly-formed Digital Content Production team in 2019.

“We recognised the greater reach we could achieve with well-designed and well-timed content using the right medium,” says Ms Diviya, who joined the Board’s Media and Publicity Department eight years ago, and is currently Deputy Director (Service Excellence Management).

One memorable project for her was the video featuring CPF Volunteers, which was one of the first in-house videos produced by the young team.

“The video was for the launch of the Community Paying it Forward movement in 2021, where we gathered Singaporeans from all walks of life to pay it forward by encouraging people around them to make the best use of their CPF savings,” she says.

“There were only three of us in the team then, and we handled everything from pre-production, including conducting pre-interviews with the volunteers, planning the shoot, doing the actual shoot, multi-tasking as interviewer and art director, to post-production and editing,” adds Ms Diviya.

The team ultimately came up with two versions of the video. One was in English and the other featured various vernacular languages so that a wider pool of audience could relate to it.

“The videos were well-received and the success gave us the confidence to pursue larger-scale productions and expand the team,” she says.

As the work environment is "collegial" and "nurturing", she has never felt apprehensive experimenting and taking on new projects.

At the Board, new joiners and long-serving employees attest to a supportive culture where they are encouraged to take on new roles to expand their skill sets.

"We encourage employees to work with their supervisors to achieve their goals, or simply to find their own equilibrium – regardless of the role they play within the Board," says Ms Caroline Loh, Director (Human Resources) at the Board.

"We respect that everyone has his or her own unique set of aspirations, values and personal circumstances, some of which evolve with time," she adds.

Ms Diviya appreciates the nurturing and supportive culture at the CPF Board where everyone is encouraged to achieve their goals. PHOTO: CPF BOARD

Public service with heart and purpose

Ms Loh says the organisation conducts regular salary benchmarking exercises to ensure its employees are paid fairly and competitively, in line with the market.

But competitive pay packages are not all that keep employees like Ms Chang at the Board. She was deeply appreciative of the empathy and flexibility shown by the Board which granted her a two-year no-pay-leave arrangement when she moved to Thailand as a trailing spouse. She returned in 2016, thankful that the Board had kept her name on the payroll during her absence.

"The first two or three months back was a little bit hard. But I received support from my bosses and other fellow working moms within the Board," she says.

More importantly, like Mr Teo, Ms Chang and Ms Diviya, employees at public service agencies are driven by a shared mission to serve – the Board’s raison d'être since its founding in 1955.

"I'm in a very privileged position and in a position of high trust," says Mr Teo, referring to his part in safeguarding the members' CPF funds for retirement, healthcare and housing.

Ms Diviya sums it up succinctly: "The one thing I would say I'm very proud of is that the work I do helps people. I don't think I could ask for more from my job."

Find out more about the CPF Board today.

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