10 Common Things You Might Never See in a Post-COVID-19 Office Again

Will the workplace ever be the same? See which things might be missing when your office reopens.

Woman wearing mask in office
Updated May 13, 2024
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The new coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in many ways, and we’re all doing our best to adjust, progress, and thrive with the new changes. Of course, many changes don’t necessarily alter how we live our lives — they’re just different.

As businesses continue to adapt and figure out how to make money in this changing environment, they will also begin to reopen. You’ll once again have to earn your paycheck from the office instead of the comfort of home. And as you start interacting with co-workers in person once more, you may notice a few changes around the workplace.

In general, the in-person workforce will likely be limited, but the typical office guidelines and practices from pre-pandemic times may also change. Certain items around the office might disappear completely.

Here are 10 things you may never see in an office again:

10 things you may never see in an office again

1. Coffee maker

The coffee maker can give you that extra jolt of energy you need during a long workday, but it presents huge safety concerns from multiple people handling it. Companies will have to crack down on any risk of cross-contamination for their workers to feel safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend both cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to reduce the number of germs present. However, because coffee makers aren’t essential to a workplace, they can be removed altogether. It makes more sense to remove an unnecessary item than to have it cleaned every day.

The consensus: This shouldn’t come as a big loss for the office. With the coffee maker gone, you can purchase your favorite caffeinated beverage from a local coffee shop. It’s a great way to support struggling local businesses, and the coffee is probably better.

2. Office fridge

Like the coffee maker, the office fridge presents a cross-contamination risk. You may not actually be touching your co-workers’ food and beverages, but you’re still getting within close contact if you’re using the fridge. In addition, just touching the fridge itself can spread germs from one person to another.

It’s an unfortunate sacrifice to make, but the office fridge likely has to go. There’s no real argument when it comes to the safety of the workplace versus having a cold drink at lunchtime.

The consensus: This may be a bigger loss than the coffee maker, but it’s still not that bad. If you want to save money on dining out by packing your own lunch, bring your own insulated bag or mini cooler and some ice packs. It’s a quick, easy, and inexpensive solution, especially if you already have these items in your house. Alternatively, you can also offset your lunch takeout costs by using the best credit cards for dining out.

3. Shared supply closet

The office supply closet has every physical item you need to stay productive and efficient at work. This is where you’ll find the printer paper, pens, pencils, markers, dry erasers, and so much more. And if you use the best credit cards for office supplies, it’s also a great resource for earning credit card rewards.

Because the supply closet is typically open for anyone to use, it may make sense to shut it down and find another way to divvy up supplies. You don’t really know how many people could be coming in and out of the room every day and coming into contact with shared supplies, so it’s safer to find an alternate solution.

The consensus: Depending on the company, it could make sense to create a system in which each employee has access to the supplies they need. This could be a personalized supply box with employees requesting the supplies they need. Or one individual is allowed into the supply closet and can fulfill supply requests for everyone else. The supplies would have to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they’re handed off, though.

4. Shared file cabinet

Many offices use file cabinets to store important documents and/or sensitive information. Certain employees within the company may have access to these documents if they need them. If too many people are accessing shared file cabinets, the system might have to change or the file cabinets will need to be removed and another solution implemented.

The consensus: Like the shared supply closet, it might make sense to have only a select individual or two using the file cabinets. If someone else needs certain documents, they can request them. This will limit the possibility of germs spreading from multiple people using the file cabinets.

5. High-contact buttons/fixtures

If your office has an elevator, light switches, door handles, or any other high-contact button or fixture, you could be in for some changes. Companies are beginning to explore contactless options for anything that could be considered high-contact. So any item that’s possibly touched multiple times a day by different people would fall into this category.

This doesn’t mean you’ll lose the ability to turn on a light or get through a door. Rather, the method will be replaced with technology that doesn’t require touch. For instance, certain doors could use face scanners, voice recognition software, or smart locks that you can open with your phone. In essence, your workplace could get a lot smarter with contactless technology.

The consensus: The only real downside to upgrading the workplace with contactless technology is the actual cost of doing it. Otherwise, having a high-tech office sounds amazing.

6. Conference room phones/tech

Conference rooms may see some changes with how many people are allowed inside and what contents remain. Specifically, there’s no need for phones or TV remotes in the conference room unless they don’t require any handling. This goes along with the entire office becoming more tech-oriented to facilitate contactless procedures.

The consensus: It shouldn’t be a big deal to remove phones or other devices from the conference rooms. It’s easy to share a screen on a conference call between everyone’s personal devices or share your screen with a capable device already in the conference room.

7. Cramped spaces

The days of cramming employees as close together as possible in the workplace are over. Everyone needs to be spread out, so expect office designs where you won’t be able to lean over and talk to your deskmate. This doesn’t mean a revamp of the whole office, though.

Employees may end up working on rotating schedules so there are fewer people in the office on any given day. On days you aren’t in the office, you’d be working remotely. Because most everyone is already used to the remote work lifestyle, this isn’t a huge obstacle to overcome. 

Getting rid of cramped spaces applies to conference rooms along with general office areas. The conference rooms have to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, so not as many people will be allowed in.

The consensus: Getting more space around the office sounds pretty nice. You might still share desks with other people, but a few of them may not be there on the days you’re in the office. For conference rooms, it might be a hassle if your room isn’t big enough to accommodate everyone with physical distancing measures. Still, you can always get in on the meeting virtually from another room or location.

8. Buffets and salad bars in the office cafeteria

It’s possible that the buffet line or salad bar at your office survives, but don’t count on it. It’s much easier to follow CDC guidelines if the majority of in-office employees aren’t getting in a line and grabbing food together. There’s too much risk from handling the same utensils and taking food out of the same serving containers.

The consensus: To-go options or to-order options are a quick solution. You can grab your choice of a boxed lunch with the to-go option or you can have your food prepared and brought to you (or a designated ordering area) with the to-order option. A hybrid system with both options could work, too.

9. Casual business meetings

Meeting new clients at your office or getting together with co-workers for a casual morning coffee gathering may be a thing of the past. If a meeting isn’t essential, it doesn’t need to happen. On the other hand, essential meetings, like meeting new clients, can take place virtually. It may not be the first impression you want, but that’s the new normal.

The consensus: Virtual meetings happen every day all around the world. We’ve become used to them, and they aren't really as strange as they may have once seemed. If you still want to build camaraderie with your co-workers, host a virtual coffee chat with them in Slack, Zoom, or elsewhere.

10. Office parties and potlucks

Office parties and potlucks can be great events to let down the business walls for a moment and get to know some of your co-workers. With the coronavirus pandemic, continuing with these events wouldn’t be advisable — at least not when you’re physically together and in close proximity to each other.

The consensus: The office is no longer the best location for parties and get-togethers with your colleagues. Instead, these events should probably be held in the virtual space of a video call. Of course, this may not be the best solution if you’re trying to share food with each other, but a little creativity can go a long way in these instances.

Everyone can bring their own homemade treat and show it off on their screens. Be sure to come prepared with your recipe in case anyone asks for it! The best jobs are the ones with the best co-workers, so don’t let the interactions fall off if you can’t enjoy in-person events together.

The final word on offices post-COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we interact with each other, both in our everyday lives and with our jobs. As workplaces reopen and employees start trickling back into offices, be prepared for the changes.

Also, keep in mind that not every change is negative. Contactless technology can help you be more efficient and more space around the office lets you stretch out. At the end of the day, it’s better to roll with the changes and secure your job in an uncertain economy.

Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.