All Things Upwork
June 28, 2011 by Erica Benton

Editor’s Note: For the latest from Upwork (formerly oDesk), check out the second annual “Freelancing in America” survey, released in partnership with Freelancers Union. The survey highlights a segment of the population that’s passionate about the freelance lifestyle — and likely to have a strong voice in the coming U.S. election.

We recently conducted an Online Work Survey, whose results draw on 16,065 responses from employers and contractors worldwide. What did businesses and workers think of their online work relationships?

“Location, Location, Location” Has Little Meaning

According to the survey results, building a distributed core workforce has become a key element to the success of both businesses and workers. The workplace itself has become virtual, reflecting a shift toward a truly borderless economy. Work happens regardless of location, and the majority of both employers and workers cite “non-preference” on the location of the other party.

“We are seeing a new employment reality,” states Gary Swart, oDesk CEO. “Location is less crucial to thriving employers and workers than it used to be, and today’s workplace is even more interconnected and global than Daniel Pink anticipated. There has been a substantial shift in the entire employment model.”

Addressing the Talent Shortage

Connecting local talent and opportunity has persisted as a challenge for businesses and workers alike. As stated recently in Manpower Group’s 2011 Talent Shortage Survey, as many as 34 percent of employers are having difficulty filling vacancies locally, making finding online talent to fill that gap even more imperative. According to oDesk’s survey, 28 percent of employers indicated the primary reason for building a distributed team is to access talent that is hard to find locally. Additionally, 21 percent of employers said that the ability to hire an online workforce enabled them to scale up or down quickly, responding in a nimble fashion to the real-time needs of their businesses.

Distributed Teams Plug In

Distributed teams may be geographically remote, but workers and employers consider themselves connected and engaged. According to the survey, as a result of frequent communication and collaboration on critical tasks with employers, online workers feel engaged, empowered and connected. 55 percent of employers assign “core” or “critical” work to remote contractors, while 87 percent of contractors, in turn, feel that they are an integral part of their employers’ staff.

Employment Loyalty Is Sprawling

The survey also found that workers have shown increased interest in growing their own horizontal networks and building reciprocal networks that lead to job opportunities. So, while workers collaborate in their work for employers, they are also developing loyalties to other workers. Daniel Pink called this dynamic “the new loyalty:”

Horizontal loyalty (is the) successor to vertical loyalty, which flowed upward — from an individual to an institution or authority figure…. By contrast, the new loyalty flows laterally. It is a fierce, and usually reciprocal, allegiance to: teams, colleagues, and ex-colleagues, to clients and customers; to industries and professions; and to family and friends.

Workers are harnessing their horizontal networks to support one another and network professionally, with 35 percent of contractors primarily finding work from other contractors referrals, and 59 percent of contractors participating in online groups/forums around their work.

“Big” Isn’t the Only Business in Town

The distributed workforce model is changing the nature of the business world. Access to global talent allows businesses of all sizes to grow and prosper. Contractors, specifically, are evolving into entrepreneurs and establishing their own small businesses. In other words, individuals are increasingly thinking of themselves not strictly as employers or workers, but as both.

Workers in distributed teams are growing their own businesses, and 77 percent of contractors currently consider online work as their own businesses. In addition, the majority of workers is reporting a higher expected income in 2011 than in 2010. Specifically, 66 percent of online contractors are expecting higher income this year than last, and 57 percent of workers are reporting a higher hourly rate.


Businesses and contractors are thriving — and 9-to-5 employment has nothing to do with it. While national unemployment rates remain frustratingly high and traditional staffing firms are touting a global “employment crisis,” the survey results show encouraging trends towards an interconnected online workforce.

Businesses that are building distributed teams, and the workers that are engaging in online work relationships, are succeeding in ways that are drastically different from the generations of workers and entrepreneurs before them.

How does the online workforce affect your business? Does the survey reflect how you typically interact with coworkers/employers online? Let us know in the comments!

Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more