Chickens, Cornwall and COVID – the future shape of work and learning

18 November 2020

Co-founder Andrew Crisp reflects on what the pandemic has taught us about the way we want to work and learn from here on.


The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought many predictions about the future of work and learning, but perhaps it’s time for a different perspective.  Sometimes indications of change in work and learning can be found in unexpected places, but perhaps ownership of chickens and relocation to Cornwall can tell us something about the future. 
In the first part of lockdown in the UK, there was a surge in demand for chickens to be kept at home, not as pets, although no doubt some will be pampered, but primarily as a source of eggs.  Of course, if you have time to keep chickens, it probably means you’re spending less time commuting and can take care of your chickens. 
St Ives in Cornwall is a small town around five hours by train from London.  Popular with tourists, surfers and art lovers, the town has a resident population of just over 11,000.  However, over the last six months, house sales have risen by 170%. With directives to work-from-home and technology able to connect the most far flung corners of the planet, the attraction of a two-bed flat in London has waned compared with the quality of life offered in Cornwall. 
Prior to the pandemic almost every prediction about the future had something to say about megacities.  In some parts of the world cities will continue to grow, but the need to live in massive cities has proved to be false in the last six months. 
CarringtonCrisp has recently completed a new report for the Executive MBA Council, titled ‘A new way of working and learning’.  One part of the study involved surveys of learners and companies with a question to both specifically about the impact of COVID-19. 
Among employers, 44% definitely agree that ‘I anticipate our organisation will embed flexible working as part of its future operations’ as part of their response to the pandemic.  Almost a third of individuals (32%) definitely agree that ‘I want to be able to have more flexibility in my work, including the opportunity to work from home more often than I was able to do before COVID-19’, although 41% definitely agree that ‘I can't wait to get back to working the way I was before COVID-19’. 
For some working from home won’t be an option, for others it may only mean a day a week, but the survey suggests there will be a group who want to work from home on a regular basis.  Not only does this have implications for the nature of work, but also the future of housing and perhaps a demand for shared office facilities not in the heart of major cities, but instead in more remote locations. 
Not surprisingly, one of the other trends in the report is the greater need for upskilling and reskilling both as employees remain in the workforce longer with retirement delayed and because of the rapid changes being brought about by technology.  With large city-based populations, business schools might have captured some of this learning market with learners choosing courses after work or at weekends, but when the train takes five hours to reach the city, such physical drop-in learning becomes impossible. 
Instead another trend that has grown rapidly is likely to come to the fore – online, or at the very least, blended, learning.  City-based business schools with strong brands will still be able to capture some of the new learning markets that are emerging, but only if they invest in and develop excellent online learning offers. 
There is a European folk tale called ‘Chicken Licken’ where the main character, a chicken, frequently clucks about ‘The sky is falling’.  This time, while chickens don’t foretell the end of the world of work and learning as we know it, the future may well look very different from what we have been used to. 



Subscribe to our newsletter