Petalumans adapting to telework

As the coronavirus outbreak shelter-in-place order inches toward its fourth week, some Petalumans are settling into a new kind of daily work grind in hastily constructed home office corners, at kitchen tables and among couch cushions.

Working from home is a new concept for numerous residents that are lucky enough to still be employed and to work in an industry that allows them to remain indoors in relative safety. However, the abrupt switch from office to home is reverberating across industries, as thousands in the county soldier on under lockdown.

Even before the pandemic, flexible work methods have been on the rise, partly illustrated by the influx of coworking spaces. Initially sprouting in major business capitals around the world, they are now a regular feature of small and mid-sized cities and towns across the country.

In Petaluma, Natasha Juliana’s two coworking spaces became a magnet for professionals able to work outside the typical office environment. But the shelter-in-place order has made gathering in one place impossible.

“It was such an overnight change that nobody really saw coming,” Juliana said. “I do have insight into people from a lot of different fields, and it’s been a lot of different experiences.”

The 250 regular members of Juliana’s WORK Petaluma spaces include scientists, writers, programmers, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, musicians, accountants and even a cartographer.

Most already possessed the ability to work from home, but chose to use coworking spaces in part to delineate between home and work life, access a professional environment and build networks that an isolated home office can’t offer. Since the coronavirus outbreak, even more people have taken up working from home.

“There’s a group who always worked from home, and nothing has really changed for them. Then there are a lot of people who are having to make this big transition to learn how to do it,” Juliana said. “At first it was great and exciting, but now people are already fatigued.”

Unable to operate the two coworking spaces on Kentucky Street near Penry Park and the other on D Street next to the Petaluma Museum, Juliana is adapting her business to the new work from home model.

For her clients, the primary attraction to a shared working space hinged significantly on the access to other professionals and larger networks. Isolation is a common and serious complaint from those that normally work from home.

Juliana is holding weekly virtual mixers, talks and goal-setting sessions to attempt to combat feelings of isolation among hundreds of local professionals now cut off from what was their primary method of networking and connecting with others in the course of a workday.

Ellen Rawley, a Petaluma resident that owns her own business, used the coworking space as a way to break up her workweek and benefit from a more social work atmosphere.

“Pre-coronavirus, I used the coworking space mainly as a way to not be in the house all the time, and have people and inspiration around,” Rawley said. “It’s just different to work amongst people than to work alone.”

Now, Rawley is attending Juliana’s weekly virtual mixers and a “study hall” aimed at improving productivity to reach self-?created goals. Networking on the video conferencing site Zoom is also gaining traction in a few of the Bay Area industry groups she’s an active member of. For the time being, Rawley says this virtual collaboration and weekly check-ins are the best substitute she can find.

“We’re all experiencing a huge difference in what we’re going through daily, and there is also this source of fear and anxiety about COVID-19,” Rawley said of the disease caused by the coronavirus. “I’ve had to be much more vigilant with the structure of my day so I can create the mental space for creativity. The energy of the coworking space used to help me be more productive.”

Juliana herself is having to navigate an added stressor families across the state are tackling, as her children and their distance-learning needs collide with her and her husband’s need for at-home work spaces.

“I’ve been in business nearly eight years and I’ve made plans for power outages and wildfires, but pandemics were not on my list of things to prepare for or to expect.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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