The Work Awakening: Writing the Next Chapter of How Work Gets Done

Hayden Brown
Hayden Brown
February 9, 2022
February 9, 2022
The Work Awakening: Writing the Next Chapter of How Work Gets Done

The Great Resignation, the Yolo Economy, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Realization, the Great Freelance Economy―these terms represent a collective “aha” moment happening among us that is changing how people participate in the global labor market. We see this conversation playing out across news headlines because, as a society, we’re paying closer attention to something we at Upwork have seen growing for many years. We call it the Work Awakening.

When you look closely at the Work Awakening, there is a critical undercurrent beneath it: People from all walks of life are reconsidering how they create and receive value. They are exploring new models and systems, and have begun rewriting the old rules based on the answer to a single question: “Where am I deriving value in my life?”

As we collectively examine that question, we are not just formulating new mental models for how we relate to work, but experimenting with these new models. The pace and creativity with which we are constructing our careers in new ways is exhilarating. We’re choosing different employers or to have no employer at all, exploring multiple revenue streams, and crafting careers that are more fluid and customized than what we have traditionally seen in the “freelance” and “full-time employment” binary. These trends are playing out across sectors, generations, and types of work.

In 2021, entrepreneurship skyrocketed to the highest levels since the Census Bureau started tracking this data in 2004. All generations of workers are opting into different roles that speak to their needs, passions, and skills, in many cases following paths that would have seemed unthinkably risky pre-pandemic and finding new opportunities that simply didn’t exist before. Gen Zers are aspiring in even greater numbers to work independently after college, with nearly half of 18-to-24-year-olds freelancing in 2021. Professionals are restructuring value chains in new ways that rethink the relationship between maker and consumer―from decentralized autonomous organizations to the creator economy and interest-based micro-communities on platforms like Substack, Patreon, and YouTube. Organizations, in turn, find themselves competing for the attention of talent in an environment where talent have both more opportunities and more nuanced decision-making criteria than ever before. Companies are struggling in a war for talent that has, therefore, reached a fever pitch―and are recognizing the promise and potential of experimenting more than ever before with remote work, hybrid teams of independent and full-time talent, and other new work practices.

Upwork has grown significantly by anticipating and addressing the diverse needs of today’s work reality. We’ve learned from our community the kind of innovation required in today’s world, in which workers are more distributed―and more connected―than ever before. In many respects, our largest enterprise clients are no different than the newest talent joining our work marketplace―they each need new ways to engage in deeply collaborative relationships that transcend location, and defy arbitrary and archaic definitions and boundaries traditionally separating freelance and full-time work and workers.

In the past year alone, we’ve augmented our flagship offerings, the Talent Marketplace and Enterprise Suite, with complementary new ways for professionals to connect and collaborate to achieve incredible work outcomes―including Project Catalog. It has been humbling to see how these innovations, in the hands of our customers, have powered the success of talent around the world. During the fourth quarter of 2021, Upwork talent surpassed $15 billion in lifetime earnings on our work marketplace. These dedicated professionals, and the innovative solutions Upwork provides, have, in turn, attracted organizations to Upwork in record numbers. In 2021, more than 771,000 clients utilized Upwork.  

These milestones are just the beginning, and we at Upwork are focused on accelerating the Work Awakening―empowering professionals by building their online home for work, that grows and flexes with them across their career and as their needs change; and, for businesses, delivering a singular destination that gives them access to the freelance and full-time professionals they need, on the work marketplace that makes these powerful relationships and the tools to manage them a foregone conclusion.

Professionals are realizing that the path to career success is radically different today than it was not just 20 years ago, but even three years ago. They are charting completely new paths. Businesses are realizing that to attract and partner with these professionals, they need new working models―including leadership and management skills, and cultural and behavioral norms. The entire playbook for “work” is being rewritten to shape this next version of how work gets done.

Are you ready to write this next chapter with us?

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Hayden Brown

Hayden Brown is president and CEO of Upwork, the world’s work marketplace. She was previously the Chief Product and Marketing Officer and held increasingly senior roles overseeing product, design, and marketplace after joining Upwork in 2011. She joined Upwork inspired by its mission to create economic opportunities so that people have better lives. With a new era of work underway, Hayden is leading Upwork to help companies and talent unlock their full potential.

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