Upwork’s Fourth Annual Future Workforce Report Reveals Accelerated Adoption of Independent and Remote Work Amid COVID-19

As hiring freezes persist and teams become leaner, hiring managers embrace the benefits of remote work and the use of independent talent

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--()--Upwork, the leading online talent solution, today released the results of its fourth annual Future Workforce Report, which explores the hiring habits of over 1,500 U.S. hiring managers. This year’s study features two waves of data, surveying hiring managers both prior to and in the midst of COVID-19, to reveal how the pandemic has impacted the hiring landscape. The key findings show just how quickly COVID-19 has accelerated the already rising trend toward a more flexible and remote workforce.

The first wave of research, conducted in November 2019, found that talent scarcity and access to in-demand skills were among the top challenges for hiring managers. Then the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S., further compounding this difficult hiring landscape. The second wave, conducted in April 2020, revealed this as nearly half (45%) of organizations froze hiring and another 39% of hiring managers laid off employees or expect to in the future.

With leaner teams and continually evolving business needs, Upwork’s research found that hiring managers have increasingly turned to independent professionals in an effort to quickly access highly-skilled quality talent and have the ability to scale up or down teams more cost-efficiently. As a result of COVID-19, nearly half (47%) of hiring managers are more likely to hire independent professionals in the future than they were prior to the crisis.

“Companies are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to the advantages of having a more remote, dynamic workforce,” said Hayden Brown, President and CEO of Upwork. “COVID-19 marks the turning point for how hiring managers holistically think about their workforce and embrace the benefits of having more flexible teams. In lieu of traditional hiring strategies and fully on-site teams, the most effective companies will blend full-time employees and tap into the specialized, in-demand skills from a flexible and remote workforce.”

In addition to adjusting to scaled-back teams, companies have had to adapt to the realities of becoming a remote workforce. The foray into remote work was a first for many companies and professionals alike, but despite anticipated challenges, the survey found that 56% of hiring managers say working remotely has exceeded their expectations. As a result, 62% of hiring managers believe that their workforce will be more remote than prior to COVID-19. The greater acceptance of remote work can also help solve managers' biggest challenges of finding highly-skilled talent now that they can hire talent regardless of where they are based. Other findings include:

COVID-19 is accelerating independent talent adoption and companies will continue to leverage independent professionals to stay competitive

  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of hiring managers are continuing or increasing their usage of independent professionals
  • Nearly half (47%) of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to the COVID-19 crisis
  • 59% of hiring managers agree that organizations not currently adopting a flexible workforce risk falling behind

Independent professionals provide companies with access to highly sought after skills to help with increased demand and business continuity

  • Nearly half (49%) of hiring managers cite access to highly-skilled talent as the reason to use independent talent in 2020
  • 57% of hiring managers engage independent professionals for ongoing strategic partnerships across multiple projects
  • The average length of an independent talent engagement is 4.1 months
  • Independent professionals are most commonly being hired for writing, creative, web and software development roles
  • Popular projects for which clients engage talent include: Motion Graphics Design, Front End Development and Conversion Rate Optimization

Remote work is here to stay, and companies are seeing the benefits

  • The expected growth rate of full-time remote work over the next five years has doubled, from 30% to 65%
  • 32% of managers say that remote work has increased productivity
  • The top three benefits of remote work include no commute, reduction of non-essential meetings, and less distractions in the office

About Upwork’s Future Workforce Report

For further report insights, please visit the results deck here. The report was conducted by independent research firm ClearlyRated. This is the fourth year the survey has been conducted. This report uses survey data from two separate time periods to understand the impact of COVID-19. The first surveyed 1,000 U.S. hiring managers through a third-party, independent online sample between October 31, 2019 and November 13, 2019. The second surveyed 500 U.S. hiring managers through a third-party, independent online sample between April 22, 2020 - April 28, 2020. Overall margin of error of ±4.1% at 95% confidence level.

About Upwork

Upwork is the leading online talent solution transforming professional staffing. We empower businesses with more flexible access to quality talent, on demand. Through Upwork’s matching technology and services, companies have access to a global pool of proven professionals so they can scale their teams dynamically to meet business needs. Upwork also provides skilled professionals access to more opportunities.

Upwork’s mission is to create economic opportunities so people have better lives. The community of independent professionals working via Upwork spans many categories including software development, creative & design, finance & accounting, consulting, operations and customer support—over 8,000 skills are represented.

More than thirty percent of the Fortune 500 use Upwork. Clients include Airbnb, Automattic, GE, and Microsoft.

Upwork is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., with offices in Chicago and San Francisco as well as team members in more than 800 cities worldwide. For more information, visit Upwork’s website at www.upwork.com, join us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

About ClearlyRated

ClearlyRated is a global leader in human capital management research. The firm powers satisfaction and thought leadership studies for hundreds of top firms within the space and leverages more than 300,000 survey responses annually to provide insight into the millions who work in the gig economy and the companies who hire them. For more information, visit https://www.clearlyrated.com/.


Katie Gallagher


Katie Gallagher