According to its CEO Hayden Brown, Upwork has an interesting challenge on its hands: Their clients aren’t always keen on letting others know that they’re outsourcing some of their jobs and hiring freelancers. But things are changing because of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Upwork, of course, is the online platform that connects remote freelancers and companies, both physical and virtual.
Secret Sauce No More
Brown notes that “Our customers always talk about us as their secret sauce” and adds that clients oftentimes think of their Upwork talent as their competitive advantage. As such, the clients don’t want their competitors to know about it.
But there’s another darker side to it, so to speak. Upwork clients are also hesitant about admitting their use of the online platform as an alternative to the traditional recruitment routes because it seems unfashionable.
The Covid-19 pandemic, for better or for worse, maybe changing such a situation. Brown believes that with the radical shift from in-the-office work to work-from-home, there will be more conversations about it.
The conversations include the ways in which companies hire their employees as well as the ways of creating more flexible work arrangements moving forward. There’s likely to be a combination of in-office employees and full-time remote employees on one hand as well as freelancers on the other hand.
Increase in Sign-ups
Upwork is the leader in the freelancers market against competitors like Outsourcely, Fiverr, and Flexjobs. Such is its popularity that its revenue increased to $300 million, or an increase of 19%, in 2019. Thousands of freelancers are also signing up for accounts on a daily basis and, according to its 2019 survey, 35% of American workers were employed in a freelance capacity before the pandemic hit.
Unsurprisingly, the number of freelancers exploded to over 40 million people nationwide in the wake of unemployment filings. The latter obviously was the result of the economic downturn from the pandemic-related business closures and limited operations.
Brown says that Upwork was seeing its “freelancer registration numbers” increasing between 80% and 100%.
Now is the time for Brown to connect willing freelancers and companies adapting to a leaner workforce. She adds that Upwork was “built for remote work and freelance talent” and due to the current pandemic, these two aspects of the workplace are now getting the greater attention of executives.
Upwork has an abundance of incredible talent willing and able to work at a moment’s notice. The online platform then strives to take advantage of the opportunity of connecting companies and freelancers. In the process, it’s also making the most of the radical change in the people’s attitude and mindset about remote work.
Brown thinks that such a “fundamental change” will be mostly permanent. People are changing their views about remote work and the freelancers who engage in them. It’s a sea change that will not only impact the companies and freelancers but the economy and society as well.
Upwork has a freelancers’ database in dozens of categories including finance, writing and editing, and education. Brown says that the most popular categories are in industries forced to make significant shifts as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The three most popular categories at present are marketing and advertising, particularly in redeploying messaging; technical skills in building and strengthening online presence; and customer support and operations.
But it isn’t just freelancers that are signing up in droves at Upwork! Company sign-ups are at record levels so much so that Brown says she’s excited about the possibilities. Tech giants are leading the way in normalizing work-from-home and instituting it for the long-term period. Some companies are also seeing remote work as a permanent solution to their staffing issues.
Brown further notes that companies are assessing the viability of their fixed cost structure as it applies to their full-time employees. These companies are also evaluating their level of flexibility, particularly in terms of remote work, in accordance with their changing needs.
She adds that in previous economic downturns, companies were likely to hire freelancers and contract employees before their full-time resumption of operations.
These evaluations, furthermore, may likely be necessary if freelancers form more of the workforce than in pre-pandemic times. In the 2008-2009 recession, for example, Upwork saw indicators about the change in perception about full-time work.
The change was brought by the feeling of being exposed once their “lifeline of safety and security” turned under or they were suddenly unemployed. More people entered the freelance industry as a result.
Brown asserts that she won’t be surprised if they increase in freelancers happened again. In an Upwork annual survey conducted with Freelancers Union, the number of freelancers nearly doubled between 2014 and 2019. Of these freelancers, over half of them responded that it was by choice.
Apparently, freelancing was a better way of earning a living and many freelancers say that there’s no amount of money that can make them return to full-time work.