Had you been asked a few months ago what the most valuable work in modern society was, what would you have said? Having long been conditioned to make such assessments on the basis of salaries, profits and social capital, private sector CEOs and finance experts might have been expected to top the list alongside the likes of doctors and teachers.

But sometimes it takes something seismic to put things into perspective. Asked now, in the midst of a global pandemic projected to be one of the worst in history, what would you say? As private sector industries - traditionally characterised by conference culture and nights spent sleeping in crumpled suits on office couches - close their doors and send employees home, suddenly a whole army of workers traditionally in the shadows have stepped out into the light. The mostly-female domestic workforce have no option but to keep cleaning and caring, not just because limiting the spread of coronavirus depends on it, but because the whole of society always has done too.

There’s an old feminist adage that if women en masse stopped undertaking unpaid and low-paid domestic work, the global economy would collapse. Historically its been met with eye rolls, rebuttals and the blank faces of men who’ve never considered that childcare and cleaning might be considered work. In the time of coronavirus it should be met with awe and reverence.

Caring for children and the vulnerable, cleaning public spaces and hygienically preparing and providing food are all essential services without which no other sectors could survive. A combination of factors have kept these workforces low-paid and quiet: the relative lack of social capital amongst those who tend to be in these jobs; the difficulty of union organising within these sectors; the fact that so much of this work is invisible, taking place within our own homes or before the rest of the world has woken up and arrived to their sparkling clean offices without a second thought as to who made them so.

The undervaluing of these workers has buoyed the economy, chalking up billions of pounds in savings from unpaid work and underpaid wages while they create the conditions for the rest of society to flourish. Just one month ago they were rendered “low-skilled workers” by the British Government during Brexit negotiations. But their value is clear now: indispensable and irreplaceable, unlike so many of us.

So crucial are these workers to society and the economy that many of the major public health decisions being taken are shaped directly by their contributions. The debate over whether to close UK schools, for instance, has come down less to the potential for viral spread amongst pupils and more to the difficulty of maintaining staffing levels in essential services if mothers - statistically shown to be the parents who bear the majority of childcare - have to undertake that other work instead.

For so long the work of the home has been seen to exist entirely separately from that of the office, its own incubated sphere, ticking along behind closed doors with no consequence on anything else. But, as feminist academics and campaigners have been pointing our for decades, it turns out the hard work of caring has huge economic and societal impacts after all.

Global events like coronavirus inevitably reshape the societies they torment. When office workers realise it’s not essential to be chained to a desk for eight hours a day in order to get their jobs done, what will the impact be on the movement for a four-day week? When companies realise that the technological adaptations their disabled workers have long advocated for might work just as well as a three-hour long boardroom meeting over tepid coffee, how might the infrastructure of business change?

And when society at large realises that these undervalued, underpaid domestic workers carried on providing essential services, often at huge risk to themselves, while so many of us worked from our sofas or dialled into conference calls, how can we justify rendering them invisible once again and carrying on like they matter less than bankers and entrepreneurs?

Domestic and service workers are the backbone of any society. We could survive with fewer bank managers, or venture capitalists, or start-up founders or business analysts. But cooks, cleaners and carers keep the world going round, in part only because they’ve settled for too little for too long. After they’ve also seen us through a global pandemic, they should make no apologies about asking for more - and the rest of us should join their call.