“Always listen.” With Penny Bauder & Bhavneet Chahal

As a result of mass stay-at-home orders, we are now seeing clearer skies, cleaner air, and more of mother nature’s beauty. Not only has this very visually shown us the human impact on climate change, but also our ability to turn back the clock (so to speak) in a short amount of time. The Covid-19 […]

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As a result of mass stay-at-home orders, we are now seeing clearer skies, cleaner air, and more of mother nature’s beauty. Not only has this very visually shown us the human impact on climate change, but also our ability to turn back the clock (so to speak) in a short amount of time.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bhavneet Chahal.

Bhav is a passionate self-made entrepreneur who is dedicated to providing accessible and affordable education for both unemployed adults as well as working professionals. In 2013, she co-founded, a New Zealand based online education company that provides courses to help people learn practical business skills to get a new job, upskill for their current jobs or to stay relevant in the workplace in the face of changing technologies. Bhav also supports young women wanting to start their own business with practical assistance; she proudly supports two USD $2,000 scholarships each year. The title of these awards leaves little room for misinterpretation: they are called the Scholarship for Women Who Want to be the Boss.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Myjourney began at university. I studied Applied Science at Otago University and, while I always enjoyed science, I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career as a researcher or scientist.

During the last year of that degree I heard about a student business competition on campus called Kickstart. I entered the competition with a business idea and was surprised and delighted to be awarded one of the prizes and to be a finalist in the competition.

This opened up my eyes to a totally different world of business and entrepreneurship. I then completed a Master of Entrepreneurship to learn practical skills to start and grow a business.

After completing that degree, I started my first company with a classmate. This was a tumultuous time and I learnt a lot about business, partnerships and surrounding yourself with the right team. The business ultimately failed, but I learnt certain lessons that would help me succeed with my next business.

That next business was GoSkills. I saw an opportunity whilst I was working at Groupon in Sydney, Australia. I noticed that online courses were selling like hot cakes on Groupon, and Excel courses were the top-selling products.

But I was appalled at the level of quality of these “online courses”. So I saw an opportunity to create high quality courses, and to use Groupon as a distribution channel. I partnered with some former colleagues in New Zealand, who created the technology behind GoSkills, and together, we embarked on this business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

When we first started, I had printed out business card-sized coupons to hand out at my local train station. This was to test the idea that people would buy online courses via coupons. It worked (some people did redeem their coupons and bought the courses online) but it wasn’t something that could scale. It was fun nonetheless and I learnt a lot about human behaviour and herd economics! We’ve also kept the spirit of always experimenting with new ideas at GoSkills, albeit in a more ‘traditional’ online environment via A/B testing.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on building out more features for the learning management system we launched last year. The LMS is unique in that it is suitable for businesses of all sizes and it follows a freemium model, effectively leveling the playing field in L&D tech.

The system is cloud based, which allows teams to move forward with their L&D initiatives, even while they are remote.

As more and more people are spending time indoors, we have decided to discount our annual course subscription indefinitely.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people I take inspiration from. I don’t think you really know what’s possible until you see someone else doing it. I’ve learned vicariously from so many business leaders, such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Phil Knight, and Richard Branson just to name a few. I believe media (movies and TV) has also played a huge role in making me realise that it’s possible for women to take on leadership positions and become CEOs and founders of successful businesses.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Alongside navigating the difficulties of the pandemic, for those who live with their families there is an added challenge of balancing work and family life when your home is also an office and a school. I don’t have a family, however, many team members of GoSkills do. As we have been a remote company since day 1, our team has been able to set their own schedules and work around their family commitments.

We also encourage a separate working space so that you’re not distracted when you need to focus, and can leave that space to spend time with family without thinking about work.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

The biggest work challenge is simply ensuring our business pulls through the crisis and is not negatively impacted in the long run. We have also hired two new people during the pandemic, and it’s important to us that they feel secure with their new positions.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

What we always do — which is to listen to our customers.

We have offered free months of learning for those who have cancelled their subscriptions due to COVID-19, offered a discount on our yearly subscription, and created free COVID-19 and WFH courses for businesses to share with their teams.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

While I can’t speak on balancing homeschooling or family needs, I do have over 7 years of remote work experience.

These are some of the things I’d recommend first time remote workers to do.

  1. Embrace online collaboration, project management and communication tools. The GoSkills team relies on Slack, Trello, Google Drive, and Zoom to get things done.
  2. Trust that work is being done.
  3. Over-communicate. It may seem silly while you’re doing it, but it reduces chances of miscommunication and has the added benefit of making social isolation less isolating.
  4. Maintain your culture — remember to have fun and connect with coworkers socially. The GoSkills team uses Donut, a slack plugin to randomly pair people for a non-work related catchup.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

It’s important to find some normalcy or stability in your routine. This can mean setting up a home office, planning activities for your kids the night before, and finishing your work on time.

When you work from home, you may find yourself falling into the trap of finishing that “one last email” way into the evening. To avoid doing that, try bookending your day with things you look forward to, such as catching up virtually with a friend, doing a home workout, or working on a hobby.

We have published a few pieces around this on the GoSkills blog, too.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. People build grit and resilience during challenging times. I think people will come out of this, stronger, more resilient, and ultimately happier.
  2. We will value our social relationships a lot more. We often don’t realise what we have until it’s taken away, and this rings true with the family and friends we’re unable to see due to social isolation.
  3. This pandemic will be the catalyst for more businesses to openly embrace remote work. This has many benefits for society — it gives people more autonomy over their daily lives; minimizes the need to commute which saves time and reduces carbon emissions; it affords parents the flexibility to remain in the workforce, leading to greater gender balance and representation at all levels within an organization.
  4. As a result of mass stay-at-home orders, we are now seeing clearer skies, cleaner air, and more of mother nature’s beauty. Not only has this very visually shown us the human impact on climate change, but also our ability to turn back the clock (so to speak) in a short amount of time. Post-crisis, I hope this translates into greater investments in sustainable energy, and a greater collective focus on reducing, reusing and recycling.
  5. Self-isolation has given us time to pause, reflect, and express ourselves. I have been astounded by the creativity and humour with the multitude of memes, videos, and posts that have been shared.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Connect with family members and loved ones often, especially those who live alone or in cities that are heavily impacted by the virus.

Set a limit for the amount of time you spend watching the news. There is only so much that is in our control, and getting caught up in the news can do more harm than good.

Find some sort of exercise regime that you can do at home. Breaking a sweat releases endorphins, and we could do with a lot more of that right now.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I like the Latin phrase “per angusta ad augusta”, which loosely translates to “through trials to triumph”. This was the motto of my high school in New Zealand, and it has always resonated with me. We will face many challenges in our lives, but it is through facing those challenges that we become stronger and more resilient. I feel that this is particularly apropos to the current pandemic.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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