Big companies are redesigning their offices in response to COVID-19, and it might mean smaller cafeterias and the end of traditional coffee machines

Women using WhatsApp in coffee shop
The “coffee break” in the office was a moment for employees to interact with one another and have a moment of rest.

  • WeWork says its London offices will have touchless coffee machines that work by scanning a QR code.
  • This change along with others from top firms could transform the office experience as we know it.
  • The tech firm Drift is axing individual desks, while the finance giant KPMG may cut office space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The commercial real-estate firm WeWork is planning to introduce touch-free coffee machines in all its offices across London. To use the machines, people working in WeWork offices would download a smartphone app and scan a QR code on the coffee machine.

The flexible-workspace firm did not elaborate on the date when the touchless machines would be installed, but WeWork said it would most likely introduce them soon.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing everyone to keep to themselves and sanitize objects before and after touching them, this could mean fewer colleagues feeling inclined to make coffees for other staff members.

Businesses across the world had no choice but to adapt to a new way of working when the coronavirus pandemic made it dangerous for households to mix indoors.

With companies preparing for a return to offices, many workers are likely to notice changes when they come back.

Routine use of disinfectants to fight the coronavirus is mostly unnecessary, as the risk of transmission through touching surfaces is “low,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in April.

In a science brief based on analysis of the latest available data, the agency said intense cleaning was needed in only a few scenarios.

This news could bring an end to what some refer to as “hygiene theater,” or routine deep cleaning of hotel rooms, business premises, and public transport. Such measures might appear reassuring but are costly and, it seems, of limited use.

Despite this, Mathieu Proust, a general manager at WeWork in the UK, told Insider that as well as having touchless coffee machines, the London offices would also have motion-sensitive doors, where people move their hand in front of a button without touching it to open a door.

He said there would be no structural change to WeWork offices and added there would be increased sanitation in the buildings and signs telling people to wear masks and dictating what they could touch.

The purpose of the office is changing

WeWork is introducing an unusual hybrid model in the UK in which its employees work three days in the company’s headquarters, one day in a WeWork location, and one day at home.

Proust told Insider the company had changed the design of its space to create more room for teamwork and social interaction, rather than solo work.

One of WeWork's collaboration hubs in London
A WeWork collaboration hub in London.

“The purpose of the office is changing,” he said. “It’s about collaboration, connection, and creating more company culture.”

These so-called collaboration hubs have lots of whiteboards, more sofas, and fewer desks, according to Proust.

Collaboration spaces where people can be face-to-face with one another are “the best way to use office space,” according to Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University.

Woolley, who has spoken with companies about their return-to-office plans, said many were getting rid of permanent desk assignments because they were shrinking their office footprint. She also said some were downsizing the cafeterias and other sharing facilities in the workplace because “it doesn’t make sense to have them.”

A WeWork collaboration hub in London
A WeWork collaboration hub in London.

WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani said at the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything conference that employers wanted open-plan offices because they could keep them cleaner and they offered better ventilation.

“If you want to collaborate, you have to create an office environment,” Mathrani said.

These office-plan changes can also be seen in the tech and finance sectors.

The artificial-intelligence-powered sales software startup Drift, based in Boston, is throwing out individual desks and converting its offices into collaboration spaces. The company’s CEO and founder, David Cancel, told Insider the company had taken all of the desks and personal belongings out of the conference rooms and made them into spaces where people could gather.

“It will probably mean we’ll need less space over time,” Cancel said.

The insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London also told Insider it would adopt a more-flexible working model with employees using the offices for when they needed to “collaborate or innovate.” Staff members will “conduct focused work remotely,” the firm said.

Cutting down on office space

Other companies are taking a more drastic option and giving up their office space as employees prepare to work from home in the future.

Some finance giants that have introduced a hybrid working model are reconsidering what the dozens of office floors are used for in the company.

The accounting and professional-services firm KPMG is redesigning its offices and may ultimately cut down on the amount of office space, said Kevin Hogarth, KPMG UK’s chief people officer.

Hogarth told Insider the company was reconfiguring its offices to create space for collaboration, learning, imagination, and team building. The workplace will be less orientated toward work that can easily be done at home, he said.

KPMG is planning a £44 million, or $62 million, program to invest in its office estate and technology, Hogarth said. “That’s because the nature of the office is going to change,” he said.

“I think it’s probably likely that over time we will see a reduction in the amount of office space that we need,” Hogarth said, adding that the company was focusing on creating the right environment for its staff.

Lloyds Banking Group is also planning to cut its office space by 20% over the next two years, The Guardian reported in April. An employee survey revealed 77% of Lloyds’ 68,000-person workforce said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week.

HSBC is taking another approach – it’s scrapping its executive floor offices and moving top managers down to “hot-desk” on a floor with other employees. The floors have turned into client meeting spaces.

Justin Small, the CEO and founder of the consultancy and advisory firm Future Strategy Club, told Insider the pandemic had evened out the office hierarchy. He said having executives five floors up from other employees was “ridiculous” and “old-fashioned.”

Hybrid working means companies won’t need the same size office, Small said, adding that where employees sit and work had become “irrelevant.”

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The 5 best coffee makers in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

When shopping for a drip coffee machine, there are a few key questions to ask yourself. How much time would you like to devote to your morning coffee routine? Do you want to roll out of bed and press a button, or would you rather wake up to already-brewed coffee?

While some people are perfectly fine with a basic model that just has an on/off switch, others might appreciate fancier features like scheduling, a built-in grinder, or the capability to make specialty drinks.

The picks in our guide below run the gamut, but they all have at least a 10-cup capacity and some sort of display for programming. Here are the best coffee makers on the market right now, after hours of research and personal testing.

Here are the best coffee makers in 2021

The best coffee maker overall

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The Cuisinart Coffee Plus 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker not only makes great coffee, but its built-in hot water system also lets you make tea, oatmeal, and more.

Pros: Separate hot water system, 24-hour programmability, carafe temperature control

Cons: Doesn’t have a backlit display, awkwardly placed water fill container, not the quietest machine

The Cuisinart programmable coffeemaker comes with its own hot water system so you can brew coffee and get your favorite tea or snack ready at the same time with hot water on demand. The hot water system is controlled via a power button and can be used even if you don’t want coffee, or if you’re already done brewing a cup. The hot water is ready almost instantly, so all you need to do is press the lever down to dispense it. 

If your day can’t start before you’ve had coffee, you’ll appreciate this machine’s 24-hour programmability so you can have a cup ready and waiting for you each morning. The machine also automatically turns on and shuts off so you’ll never have to worry about it running after you’ve left the house.

You’ll find low, medium, and high carafe temperature control settings for keeping your pot warm. The machine comes with one charcoal water filter and a gold-tone filter to eliminate any impurities that can impact the taste of your coffee or other beverages. When it’s time for cleaning, just use the self-cleaning function. A “Brew Pause” feature also lets you stop the brew cycle temporarily if you’ve made a mistake with the beans or put a too-small cup under the spout.

This particular machine has settings for one, four, or 12 cups. A slightly smaller 10-cup model is also available. However, most models this size actually brew cups that are closer to five or six ounces, rather than the full eight ounces, according to Consumer Reports.

The best budget coffee maker

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The Black+Decker Programmable Coffee Maker is a budget-friendly machine with a large capacity, digital control panel, and plenty of features for the price.

Pros: Small footprint, the brew-pause feature makes it easy to sneak a cup, removable filter basket

Cons: Can be tough to see the water level, can’t remove carafe lid for cleaning, warming plate surface may peel over time

It’s not the fanciest coffee maker around, but the Black+Decker Programmable Coffee Maker gets the job done. There’s a lot to appreciate for such an affordable price, from the 12-cup capacity to a water window that lets you keep track of the amount.

The coffee maker is a good choice if you’re looking for a compact coffee maker for your home, office, or both. You’ll also find a digital control panel with soft-touch buttons. It’s easy to program the machine to make coffee ahead of time thanks to its 24-hour programming functionality.

If you simply can’t wait for the brewing cycle to finish, you can grab a cup before it’s done thanks to the brew-pause function. And as long as the glass carafe is properly positioned underneath the basket, you shouldn’t experience any dripping or leaking.

The best coffee maker with water filtration

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From its high brew temperature to delay-brew and auto-pause features, the Mr. Coffee – 10-Cup Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe is a solid value.

Pros: Delay brew feature, filter greatly reduces chlorine taste from water, high brewing temperature, stainless steel carafe keeps drink warm

Cons: Plastic construction cheapens the appearance, produces a fair amount of steam when brewing, doesn’t have a permanent filter

If you’re looking for overall value in a programmable coffee maker, consider this Mr. Coffee model. For starters, it’s equipped with many features you’d expect on a higher-end coffee maker, such as the delay brew function and an auto-pause feature that lets you grab a cup of coffee before brewing is finished. The machine automatically shuts off after two hours, which is a big plus if you’re the forgetful type.

A built-in water filtration system helps to remove up to 97% of chlorine, which is a huge plus if you find that your tap water doesn’t taste great. The filter ensures that any mineral or elemental tastes don’t make their way into your coffee.

If you can’t get to your coffee right away or you want it to stay warm, you’ll appreciate the double-walled stainless steel carafe. Unlike some models in this price range that come with a glass carafe, the extra insulation in this thermal carafe maintains a warm, but not scalding, temperature. Whether you like your coffee strong or mild, the brewing temperature also plays a major role. This machine brews up to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only does this keep your coffee from tasting burnt, but you also won’t have to rely on a warming plate or a microwave to get your coffee back to a drinkable temperature.

The best coffee maker with a built-in grinder

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Not only is the KRUPS Grind and Brew Auto-Start Maker fully programmable for brewing, but it can also grind your coffee beans for an even fresher brew.

Pros: Built-in burr grinder, auto-start function, three brew strength settings

Cons: Grounds can get stuck on the container walls, carafe lid is prone to opening when pouring, can get loud when grinding coffee

The highlight of the Krups Grind and Brew 10-Cup Coffee Maker is its built-in grinder. Whether you’re a bit short on space or you simply prefer the convenience, having a built-in grinder lets you grind beans and then brew all within one machine. You can adjust the settings on this machine according to the type of bean you’re using as well as your desired drink.

As far as built-in grinders go, this one is fairly bare-bones, but it will produce good drip coffee (just don’t expect to be able to pull espresso from it). Cleaning the hopper, or storage container can be a bit of a chore, but that’s always the case with a burr grinder. Using a smaller brush can help reach into tight spaces for easier cleaning.

The main drawback to having a grinder attached to your coffee machine (as is the case with espresso machines), is that beans stored in the hopper will be heated and dried out every time you turn on the machine, degrading their quality. The best way around this issue is to store your beans in an airtight jar or container and dose them into the hopper as needed.

If you’re looking for user-friendly features to help make your mornings easier, you’ll appreciate the straightforward controls on the Krups Grind and Brew. For starters, you can push a button to select anywhere from two to 10 cups. An auto-on feature allows you to program the machine to start at a time that’s most convenient for you. After you put the beans in the grinder and add water, the machine automatically takes the correct amount of beans to grind depending on how many cups you want and the strength you choose.

The best coffee maker for specialty drinks

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The Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System brews your favorite hot and cold coffee and tea, and it comes with a built-in milk frother and tea brewing basket.

Pros: Pull-out tray accommodates smaller mugs, makes specialty coffee and tea, one-touch technology

Cons: Stainless steel smudges easily, doesn’t have an espresso setting, doesn’t produce the hottest coffee

With a coffee maker or espresso machine, you’re only able to make just that — coffee or espresso. But if you’re looking for a multitasker that can make several types of coffee and tea, and at different temperatures, try the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System.

It has a built-in frother and a tea brew basket, which you can use for loose leaf and bagged tea. There’s a menu with options for hot or iced drinks, along with different drink varieties like cold brew coffee, or green or oolong tea.

Programming the machine may take a few minutes longer than expected, but the extended menu and sizing options ensure you get the drink you want when you want it. A delay brew option lets you make your favorite hot beverage in advance.

When the beverage is done, it’s automatically kept warm via the hot plate. However, you can adjust the plate to a warm setting instead to ensure your drink doesn’t get too hot.

What to look for in a coffee maker

Aside from programmability, size, and price, certain features can help make the decision easier.

If the flavor is crucial, you’ll want to consider the brewing temperature. In general, coffee makers that reach a range of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit deliver the most precise results. Some machines come with a warming plate to keep your beverages hot after brewing, which is particularly helpful if you’re not going to be drinking your coffee right away, or you want the remaining coffee to stay warm.

Impurities in the water you use to brew, such as chlorine, could also impact the taste of the coffee; machines with carbon block filters work particularly well. What you don’t want is hard, mineral-rich water, which will calcify inside your machine and while you might not necessarily notice it in your coffee, it will eventually give your machine trouble.

How important are fresh grounds?

What gives coffee its flavor is the oils stored in the beans. Older beans will be dried out, and lacking flavor. If you like a rich, flavorful cup of coffee, it’s best to always use freshly ground beans each time you brew.

To maximize flavor, it’s also important to store your beans properly. We recommend keeping your beans in an airtight container in a dark, cool space.

Another thing to consider is that while built-in grinders are convenient and generally more compact, storing your beans in a hopper above or next to your coffee maker isn’t great. Heat and coffee are enemies, and as you run your coffee machine, your beans are going to heat up and the precious oils inside them are going to evaporate, leaving you with prematurely stale coffee. That said, grinders are expensive, and it’s a matter of weighing out the conveniences and expenses as they pertain to you and your kitchen.

Check out our other great coffee guides

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