“Plan your time.” With Penny Bauder & Amber Christian

I’ve been planning my time by making a priority list of the most important things to be done each day. I put things in priority order because some days are more productive than others. This allows me to balance the needs of family without feeling guilty about the work I need to get done. The […]

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I’ve been planning my time by making a priority list of the most important things to be done each day. I put things in priority order because some days are more productive than others. This allows me to balance the needs of family without feeling guilty about the work I need to get done.

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 Amber Christian.

Amber has 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, and software development. She’s an experienced leader, writer, and speaker on a variety of management and technology topics.
You can learn more about her product Bella Scena at https://meetbellascena.com

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?

Mycareer in technology started while I was in college. I majored in MIS within the Business school at the University of Minnesota Duluth. I spent many years working in Fortune 500 companies. I gravitated toward roles and opportunities that blend business and technology skills. I also loved working in areas that had a lot of complexity to their processes. In 2017, I decided to transition from implementing software that others built into building my own software. As a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies, I spent a lot of time in meetings. I recognized how much inefficient meetings cost organizations. I came up with the idea to treat meetings as a process within software. This idea led to the creation of Bella Scena.

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

I’m often reminded of what a journey it is to be an entrepreneur. Our skills are constantly changing and growing as we react and shape what is happening around us. Recently I was on a call and I was giving a demo of our product. I’ve invested years into making sure we have a simple, usable product. When giving a product demo it’s hard to know how much of what you are describing is resonating with the other person. After the demo, the person gave me great feedback. He told me I had built into a product a behavior that they had tried and failed to get people to do over the course of many years. If they had my product, very basic meeting problems would simply disappear. Now every meeting would have a goal.

It’s hard not to get emotional when you hear comments like this. Especially right now, when we are all going through so much adjustment. It inspires me to keep going when feedback is so encouraging.

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

Yes, we have been working on new ideas to streamline and make your remote meetings more efficient. We are working on meeting templates to make it easier to create meeting structure. We will provide some standardized ones for different kinds of meetings, as well as let you set up your own. This will make it even faster and easier set up productive and efficient meetings.

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?

Aaron Keller from Capsule was incredibly helpful as I started my company. I worked with Aaron and the team at Capsule as we named my company and built its initial brand. Aaron has continue to stay in touch and provide ideas and mentorships as I continue on my entrepreneurial journey. When the weather was nice and the concept of social distancing didn’t exist, we would meet for lunch and banter about products and solutions that might need to exist in the market. Every conversation would help me get into a creative space, which is so important for an entrepreneur. It was such a creative time that I will always remember and appreciate.

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?

My work itself was remote before this all began. I think there are two big challenges I have faced during this time. First, my spouse wasn’t at home each day working remotely too. This has changed our day to day routines as we adjust to being home all the time.

Second, the feelings of isolation are one of the hardest parts for me. As a woman in STEM running a technology company, we are already underrepresented. Loneliness, depression, and anxiety crop up periodically, often without warning right now. Days can go by where everything is fine, and then it just pops up. Processing through the periodic setbacks and anxiety is challenging. For me it is particularly challenging given that I am normally a very positive, high energy person. I don’t like feeling so fragile.

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

My spouse and I have created new daily structures to help us adjust to the new normal. We’ve worked hard on communicating with each other about how everything is making us feeling so that we can make adjustments as necessary.

On the work front, I’m adding additional time to deadlines where more collaboration is needed in order to provide time to work through processes.

I am also doing my best to practice grace with myself. Grace for others has never been a challenge for me, but grace for myself has always been a challenge. I tend to be very driven and goal oriented, but our world has gone sideways. I have to keep reminding myself that I am also human. The days where the anxiety is high, the only thing I can do is talk about it and process through it. I’ve noticed the more I talk about periodic struggles, the more others do as well.

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

Most people I work with are adjusting to remote work. It takes longer to coordinate and get work completed as everyone adjusts to new routines. Because it is also harder to concentrate, I end up working more to try to keep work moving forward. This also affects my family.

There is also a lot of pressure right now to NOT be selling. I sit in a position where I have a product that actually helps everyone working remotely run better meetings. To not talk about something that could help doesn’t feel right either. I try to walk a compassionate balance right now given the various stages of adjustment everyone is in. I’m not sure any response will feel fully right during this time.

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

The software product my company builds, Bella Scena, was designed from the ground up to help people treat meetings as a process so that you can work from anywhere. We were approaching work this way prior to a time when everyone was remote due to the shifts in our workforce and the gig economy.

Bella was designed to help you plan your meetings for success through communicating goals and responsibilities for meeting participants, engaging participants, and tracking live meetings to help keep individuals on track. We’re doubling down in making our product easy to use and adding features to make it even easier to manage meetings during this time. We’re spending time with our customers to make sure their needs are met, and they have all the training they want on our product.

We are also having webinars where we bring people together around a particular productivity idea. We provide a number of ideas to consider on the topic, and engage the audience to add even more. We’re trying to help inspire creativity and provide fuel for your creative engine so you can see new possibilities.

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

I’ve been planning my time by making a priority list of the most important things to be done each day. I put things in priority order because some days are more productive than others. This allows me to balance the needs of family without feeling guilty about the work I need to get done.

I am also setting regular mealtimes for the family each day. It puts structure into our days. We eat breakfast and lunch at certain times each day. They are planned breaks where we gather together and put other things to the side. Then we go back to our respective activities outside of that. It’s not perfect- but it’s helping.

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

Make sure you and your family are getting enough sleep! While we are home is a great time to get some rest. Sleep affects so much of our ability to remain calm and rational as well as our immune systems. If sleeping at night is a problem, try to squeeze in naps during the day where you can.

Sleep is just one component of self care. Figure out what self-care each person in the household needs to feel sane right now. Everyone will have a different answer.

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. You’ve made it this far! Many of us are several weeks to months into being home. It’s easy to see the uncertain path ahead without recognizing how much we’ve gotten through already. Are you practicing social distancing? Make sure you give yourself credit for how much you care about your fellow humans.
  2. You are more adaptable than you think. You’ve learned how to use video conferencing, and had to learn it as a rapid pace. You are homeschooling your kids, or helping them with their video conferencing, and you have done it! Having to lock yourself in a closet to get work done? Ingenuity for the win!
  3. Relish the untold joy you have created for your pets. They are secretly wondering how they won the lottery that they are blessed to have you there all the time. Revel in the delight of your furry friends. Don’t have a furry friend- might be a good time to reconsider that choice.
  4. New opportunities emerge as the dust settles on the crisis. Yes, many are suffering now. We don’t know how life will be altered. But we know new opportunities will lie on the horizon because this happened. During every crisis or recession the next generation of ideas rise up because new opportunities emerge. Ask yourself where you are seeing new opportunities?
  5. Small kindness’s are showing up everywhere, and will continue to show up. They show our compassion and desire to help our fellow humans. Whether it is tipping extra for the takeout, buying from a local business that is still open, or sharing your extra TP with the neighbors. The kindness is there. Keep looking for those small signs of hope. Play along from home if you are able and support a local business.

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?

It’s very difficult to be away from family and friends during this time. One small gesture we’ve done for several family members is to order and send them flowers from their local florists. It gives them something to make them smile and know they are being thought of during this time. We add this in addition to regular calls to check in on them.

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

“Be the Turtle”. Because I have been through so much change throughout my life, I tend to come through the change curve a little faster. I have days where I am doing great and adapting. And then there are the days where I backslide and don’t want to get out of bed. I remind myself it is okay to need to pull back into my shell a little during this time. And it is okay to take everything one day at a time. Be the turtle you need to be, and run the race only you can run.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please reach out on LinkedIn. You can also find our blogs at https://meetbellascena.com and on https://wonderlysoftwaresolutions.com

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

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