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How will COVID-19 shape the future of work?

5th Apr 2020
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Putting my futurist hat on for a moment, what will be the lasting effects of the pandemic on how we work? 

Autonomous working

Other than just working from home more, management structures might become flatter, as employees are trusted to get on with it and ask for something when they need it.

The pandemic could break down hierarchies of all sorts. An example is students having a more informal relationship with their teachers as they use personal accounts to communicate. Also, distrust of government seems pretty high at the moment, for example the 5G Covid-19 conspiracy theory.

Decline in the value of education

As courses move online, educational institutions will have trouble differentiating themselves from the resources that are available for free, some of which is of very high quality. The effect will be compounded by the decline in the importance of education in the gig economy. Another compounding factor is the student loan crisis and data showing that higher education does not necessarily improve career development.

Tech for all

People who were previously reluctant to engage with technology have had to do so, and others have had to up their game. They will retain this tech confidence, and might be more amenable to trying new apps in future.


Will the mortality rate amongst the elderly be significant enough to affect childcare and other benefits the elderly bring to families and society? This could have a knock-on effect on parents reentering the workforce after parental leave.

Extension of Freedom of Movement

Will the post-Brexit transition period be extended? If so, EEA nationals would still be able to move to the UK post 1 January 2021 without needing visas under the UK’s future immigration system. Extension of the transition period would require agreement on a further financial contribution from the UK, because the UK’s membership in the Single Market will be extended. The UK and EU would have to agree extension by 1 July 2020 and could extend the transition period by up to 2 years, i.e. until 31 December 2022.

The value of low-skilled workers

The pandemic's strain on the NHS, social care workers and agricultural labour could lead to adjustment of the UK's plans for a Points-Based System. The Government has extremely restricted plans for visa routes for low-skilled workers, to be based on labour shortages identified by the Migration Advisory Committee. As demonstrated by the Seasonal Workers Pilot,which provided for 2,500 workers years after a shortage of tens of thousands of workers in the agricultural sector was identified, these planned routes will not be sufficiently responsive to address labour shortages.

On 23 March 2020, Tory MP Steve Double questioned Home Secretary Priti Patel about the provision for low-skilled workers, may of whom are now designated key workers. The Home Secretary simply said that the plans for the UK's Points-Based System would be kept under review.

Right to work

The inability to travel or extreme difficulty of travel could lead to visa refusals of skilled migrants in future. For example, they may be found to have breached visa conditions by working after being stuck in a jurisdiction on a visitor visa. In the UK, this means that the they would be banned from reentering the UK for a year.

Intimacy in the workplace

Will the the pandemic, following on from the Me Too movement, reduce touching in workplaces?


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