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How your new coworking space can help those with disabilities

April 20, 2021 | roi-nj.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the face of corporate work. As social distancing guidelines were implemented, working from home became the new norm for many businesses. While the pandemic will end, these new working norms are here to stay. A survey by Cisco Systems Inc. found that 53% of larger organizations plan to reduce the size of their office space in the post-COVID era, and 90% of respondents say they won’t return to working from an office full time. Many businesses have realized they can operate with fewer square feet; they may need just a conference room and some basic services for occasional meetings and collaborative work.

The post-pandemic business environment is one in which demand for flexible office space will boom. With the right investments, the growth in coworking can serve both a corporate and social purpose. The Daily Plan It is a business operated by Community Options Inc., a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities.

Community Options pioneered the shared office concept with the development of the first Daily Plan It in Princeton in 1997. Today, Community Options operates five Daily Plan Its. Office tenants include local attorneys, psychiatrists, real estate professionals and many other small businesses.

The Daily Plan It offers executive offices and meeting rooms for coworking, complete with receptionist services, free copy machine access, dedicated phone lines, high speed internet and a creative services team. While workers use the space and services provided, Community Options employment specialists operate on-the-job training programs for people with disabilities, guiding individuals through training modules in computer skills, customer service and professional behavior.

People with disabilities employed by the Daily Plan It are paid competitive wages while they receive on-the-job training. When they meet their job training goals, employment specialists help them find and transition to employment opportunities in the community. Individuals trained through the Daily Plan It have gone on to find jobs in government offices, retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, local law firms and doctors’ offices.

Investing in the success of people with disabilities is especially important now. The recession brought on by the pandemic hit workers with disabilities harder and for a longer time than other workers. Even as economic recovery continues for the general population, people with disabilities are having a harder time reentering the workforce. According to the nTIDE March 2021 Jobs Report, the labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities is down 4.3% from March 2020 to March 2021.

Despite challenging conditions, the Daily Plan It has continued to provide shared office solutions, maintaining nearly full occupancy throughout the pandemic. In June 2020, Community Options opened the fifth Daily Plan It, which remains fully occupied. This model has proven to provide long-term returns for the local economy. Businesses benefit from flexible office space and a larger pool of potential workers, while people with disabilities receive job training and become productive employees.

As coworking and shared office space continues to grow in the post-pandemic period, we should invest in programs that bring societal benefits, in addition to corporate gains. The Daily Plan It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to learn and grow — and gives the world a chance to see their contributions.

Robert Stack is the founder and CEO of Community Options Inc., which provides housing and employment supports for thousands of people with disabilities across 10 states.

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