Caught between two different worlds and two different strategies - Maritime and Transport Law Committee, July 2020
Johannes Grove Nielsen
The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly had a huge influence on many people around the world, but the Øresund region between Southern Sweden and Eastern Denmark has certainly had one of the more interesting – and different – experiences.
On 12 March it was announced by the Danish prime minister that the country would go on lockdown – second in Europe to Italy. On the same day Bech-Bruun, as most of the other Danish firms, switched to working from home – which in my situation is my house in Lund, Sweden.
Within a week or two almost all countries in Europe were on lockdown with one exception – Sweden. Also an exception was Belarus, where the president announced the virus could be kept away by drinking vodka and driving tractors (whether this should be done at the same time was not mentioned).
I found myself caught between two worlds and two different strategies. I could watch the news and see the streets of Copenhagen literarily completely empty – a surreal sight – and just 30 km away in Lund in Sweden, the cafes, restaurants, bars and gyms were still packed and it was literally business as usual.
As part of the lockdown in Denmark, the schools closed. And this is when the ‘fun’ started. Should we keep the kids at home, or not here in Sweden? Not surprisingly my Swedish wife, Li and I were not in total agreement. While I was influenced by the lockdown in Denmark and wanted the kids to stay at home, my wife was of course influenced by the Swedish Government’s announcement that there was no reason to shut down anything, including the schools.
I received some assistance from the US to win the argument. My wife had been in New York and got on the last plane out on 11 March, just when President Trump announced the US had shut the borders and on top of that, the US MedTech firm, where she is head of legal in the Nordics, made a worldwide company lockdown announced on Friday 13 March, after which we were both confined to working from home and she had to acknowledge, it was a special situation. The compromise was then to keep the kids home ‘for now’ to see how things developed. A decision widely criticised by my wife’s family and our Swedish friends, who could not understand how we could go against the Swedish Government’s recommendations.
But doing so was easier said than done. Technically we were not allowed to keep the children at home. While there was a certain understanding from the teachers during the first week, we were soon told by school management, that what we did was illegal and that the kids had to go to school. This was where it came in handy being two lawyer-parents. We told the school we would then officially switch to home schooling and a compromise was made with school management that we could keep them at home and turn in homework online and they would cover for us.
Next problem – who would take over the only home office in the house where you can shut the door, work in silence and do not have to also entertain the kids while working? On the one hand, you had the undersigned, who had set up the entire home office with huge screens and docking station etc. On the other hand, you had the head of legal (Nordics) of one of the biggest MedTech companies in the world, who specialises in selling hospital security equipment, including facial protection. My wife took over the office on day one and has not moved since.
We both slowly got into a rhythm of e-meetings and after four weeks, and realising we were the only parents keeping our children at home, our children started school again and we were basically back to normal, except from working at home.
Each day at 11:15 we would walk into town for an outdoor lunch together. The restaurants open at 11:30, so we would be there a few minutes early and get the most remote outdoor table. I think we have tried more restaurants in Lund during the Covid-19 crisis than during the entire year before.
I worked from home for nine weeks. It worked quite well. After a few weeks, I was fully installed in the living room with another docking station and screen. What have I learned? I have of course learned a lot more about Zoom and Teams, but I have also learned something else. I have always known about diplomacy in life – having been married for 13 years – but I have had to use all my lawyering skills (and mediator skills) to make this work. Li and I did not always agree – and I certainly never agreed with the rest of her family and our friends in Sweden about how to cope with Covid-19. They are all quite proud of the ‘Swedish solution’.
Luckily, the early lockdown in Denmark resulted in a swift containment and after only five weeks, the reopening began. I had my first ‘post-corona’ court case on 7 May. The judges had plexiglass between them and witnesses were heard online, but the lawyers were there. On 18 May, which happens to be my birthday, the country reopened more or less completely.
I guess we will all learn from this experience. Work life and personal life will become even more entangled. It can create stress, but it also increases flexibility. It is ok to schedule calls at very odd hours, because people take them from home. Just remember to put the clothes on before the first Teams meeting in the morning.