Tell us a little about yourself,
Where do you live now and how long have you been there?
I live in Singapore now, and I’ve been here for 2.5 years. I spent a year staying in the Orchard area and now I stay in Marina Bay. I came from Sweden, but before moving to Singapore, I lived in Vietnam in 2004, followed by Indonesia and Thailand.
What do you love about where you live now?
I love that it is walking distance to most of the 250+ members at EGN, a network of business leaders. I try to meet every member for lunch or coffee each year at least once. It saves travel time, money and the environment for me to be able to walk to all my members’ meetings and events.
I also love the fact that I can go for a jog around the Marina Bay area, right on my doorstep, or cycle to Sentosa island, which is around the corner. I also love swimming: it is my form of meditation and I hope that pool is reopened soon so that I can get back into my exercise routine.
How is it different from your home country?
My home country is Sweden and there I come from a small city. Living in Singapore and Marina Bay is very different. The main difference is all the facilities that come with an apartment here such as gym, swimming pool, etc. Of course, the climate here is also very different. I left Sweden for Australia in 1998 when I started to chase the sun, and I’ve never looked back.
Have you been an expat in any other country?
Yes, I’ve also lived in Australia, Thailand, UK, Vietnam and Indonesia as an expat.
The Corona Virus
How has the Corona Virus affected you?
Personally, I am separated from my son who is 11 years old and lives with my ex-wife in Sweden. I promised him last Christmas that we would spend 2-3 months together this year, but Covid-19 has sadly put a halt to those plans thus far.
I had booked him a trip to visit me in Singapore over Easter, but due to the circuit breaker regulations in Singapore, he could not come and visit me. That trip is still pending, and I hope that he will be allowed to come and visit me in Singapore in July. We will then spend a month in Singapore and then be together to Sweden in August to see the rest of my family there.
So personally, this isolation from my son and family has been extremely hard on me. While we connect by phone and teleconferencing almost daily, it is not quite the same with an 11-year-old boy who still likes to play. We had prepared for many activities such as cycling, swimming and visiting the beautiful parks in Singapore together, but that is now delayed for a while still.
Professionally, the Covid-19 situation has had a major positive impact on me. While I was employed at EGN until April this year, I became the franchise owner of EGN Singapore from May 1, 2020. 2020 has brought some challenges to everyone, including EGN, yet it also opens up opportunities for those who can see them. I teamed up with my wife Dona Amelia and EGN member AJ Boelens, and in agreement with EGN Group, we purchased the franchise rights for EGN Singapore.
At EGN, we organize professional peer groups for senior executives. We have more than 250 members in Singapore of which 125 are expats, and they appreciate our services now more than ever. The reason is that most of them are regional directors with large companies and they are facing a sudden load of unprecedented work-related issues. These range from cost-cutting, mass layoffs, supply chain and legal issues with border closures, working from home policies, etc.
Many of them have been forced to make business-critical decisions at pace, on a day-to-day basis. As their companies are now in crisis mode with many employees suffering, they are very likely to feel that they have to carry a heavyweight alone on their shoulders.
To make matters worse, these major decisions are being made at home, where it can be difficult to share work-related challenges with family members, especially in economically uncertain times. They may have children going through remote learning and need support, which adds on to the stress.
This is where a trusted confidential peer network like EGN can help, as it provides an opportunity for likeminded executives to discuss these issues. Having similar experiences, they can help each other better handle these challenges both personally and business-wise.
Where are you now and where is the rest of your family?
I am now in Singapore and my wife is with me here. My son is in Sweden and has been overdue to come and visit me since April. He is then expected to also come here in July to spend one month with me before we go to Sweden on a summer holiday. I hope that we can meet each other soon.
Are you in self-isolation, lockdown or are you social distancing and what rules do you need to follow?
Since I am in Singapore, I am strictly following the laws here, which means isolating myself at home.
In Singapore, the social distancing measures are very gradually being lifted, and I like to think that my compliance with these measures played a part in keeping the community here safe. I look forward to socializing in person soon, and to reunite with my son when we’ve finally succeeded in flattening the curve.
What do you find the hardest about your situation right now?
Being separated from my 11-year-old son. He is growing up so fast and I am trying to be the best distance father I can, by visiting him frequently and him visiting me.
Even so, I’m thankful that my family is in good health and that I can still connect with my son virtually. I know that I’m not alone in my struggles and many other expats should be able to relate to the feeling of being away from your loved ones.
Do you have any tips for anyone in lockdown or self-isolation?
Personal tips include to stay connected with your friends and family and check in with them daily, both for your sake and theirs. Also important is to take the opportunity to exercise daily since it is still legal to do so in Singapore.
Also, if you are not well, seek a counsellor or professional support. It is mentally incredibly challenging at the moment, and there is no shame in being vulnerable and honest about your own mental health.
To be honest, I am not the best role model, since I have been working too many hours every day, without even one day off work since the lockdown started. I normally manage to switch off by going on trips overseas and leaving my laptop behind for 2-3 days, or spending a longer time with my son on a ski trip or something similar.
Since this cannot happen now, I find myself easily working 12-14 hours per day, 7 days a week. I have friends who have even clocked up to 110 hours per week at the moment, so I guess I am blessed to get more off time than some.
Of course, productivity is not about clocking the most hours. When restrictions are finally lifted, I look forward to a more balanced routine and a healthier lifestyle.
Professionally, I can give tips in regards to the importance of not suffering in isolation. It is important to belong to a professional network of peers where you can have confidential group meetings with a facilitator so that you have others who can support you with your work-related challenges. Now is not the time to try to solve all complex problems or challenges alone.
Especially now as the coronavirus has greatly reduced our social interaction, having peer group discussions online can be very helpful for a sense of connection with other executives.
What are you doing differently now compared to a few months ago?
The main difference is that I am in front of my computer screen 12-14 hours a day. I used to spend around 2-3 hours a day online and the rest in physical meetings and events. I believe that it is the same for most business owners and executives since I am speaking with hundreds of them frequently and we are all in the same boat.
While the coronavirus has forced us at EGN to shift our meetings and events online, the essential component of human connection remains there.
For example, we open each meeting with half an hour of networking, structured in different breakout groups with 5-6 members each, and with a theme to discuss. When they come back they can highlight what was discussed.
Surprisingly, many of our members have taken well to this online. As many expats and senior executives have to travel often, attending physical events is not always possible, but an online format makes it more convenient and saves time. In the future, even when social distancing measures end, we are likely to still have a mix of online and physical events.
It’s a trying time for everyone, but by keeping connected and checking in on each other, we can make it through this crisis and think of new possibilities for the future.