Upwork’s 2020 Annual Impact Report: Building Back Better

Amy Sept
Amy Sept
May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021
Upwork’s 2020 Annual Impact Report: Building Back Better

In a year that tested every one of us, Upwork pushed further to support communities and organizations that needed help—from launching products that enable new income streams to sharing two decades of remote work experience with companies scrambling to adjust.

In our 2020 Annual Impact Report: Building Back Better, we explore how the Upwork team came together to innovate and live out our mission to create economic opportunities so that people can live better lives.

“Our team took quick action to enable our clients and the remote freelancers on our work marketplace to adapt and work more effectively through the pandemic,” said Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork. 

Upwork impact by the numbers

Through the dedication of its diverse team—which includes 500+ corporate employees and 1,500+ independent professionals in 800+ cities around the world—Upwork embraced a new reality and achieved many milestones, some with an immediate impact and others that lay the foundation for long-term change.

“We doubled down on our values and beliefs, putting our teams and communities first, while answering challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19,” Brown said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the impact we made in 2020.”

Upwork’s Annual Impact Report looks back at the year that was—and, more importantly, what the trends that have emerged mean for the road ahead:

Unlocking opportunity

Better lives start with better opportunities and Upwork is as committed to being a catalyst for change as it is to providing a level playing field where anyone can compete, regardless of their current circumstances. 

In order to do that, we listen to the needs of our community and enable professionals to build businesses they are excited about while helping companies navigate the changing nature of work. For example, Upwork:

  • Offered $1 million in talent grants through the Work Together Talent Grants program to 40 organizations working to mitigate the devastating impacts of COVID-19
  • Beta launched a new product so clients and professionals have more options to get work done: Project Catalog™
  • Created the Work Without Limits resource center to help independent professionals hone their business skills
  • Has taken action to help fight systemic racism, from our public stance against racism and early support for the Stop Hate for Profit advocacy campaign to our internal commitment to foster a safe environment for honest conversations about race

Our team 

Norman Edwards quote

Upwork is dedicated to bringing out the best in people by supporting the whole person—not just the part that knows how to show up at work. We’ve made it a priority to support racial equality, human rights, and social justice within our company and our communities. For example:

  • To help track Upwork’s progress and gain insights we can use to improve, we encourage employees to self-identify across a range of categories—not just by demographics but also options such as caregiver, military status, and sexual orientation. 
  • Employee resource groups—referred to as Upwork Belonging Communities—are centered on shared social identities and contribute to a sense of belonging that help improve the experience for the entire Upwork team
  • Our transition to a remote-first company empowers team members to take control of their day by setting—and honoring—their own boundaries  

Business ethics and governance

The responsibility to do the right thing belongs to everyone at Upwork and we have a robust set of codes, policies, and guidelines to support and promote ethical business practices in our day-to-day work. Staying accountable takes action, open communication, and a commitment to constant improvement. For example:

  • We augmented our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics with a program called “Speak Up,” which encourages all employees to play an active role in fostering an ethical, inclusive and accountable work environment
  • We adapted our data security and privacy program in light of COVID-19, monitoring for potential threats and rolling out training and guidance to help keep our team and our customers secure
  • We’ve prioritized meeting rigorous privacy and security industry certifications, recently achieving ISO 27001 & ISO 27018 certifications in information security as well as SOC 2 Type 2 and SOC 3 certifications


Upwork pursues sustainable business practices in our offices and in our broader community through a number of different initiatives. In 2020, this included advocating for and embracing a remote workforce model and committing to carbon neutrality. 

Days spent commuting GIF

For example:

  • We’re taking steps to monitor and reduce Upwork’s environmental footprint across the organization and published our first Emissions Report
  • We achieved carbon neutrality for 2019 and are committed to remaining carbon neutral going forward
  • We worked with an independent third party to analyze the energy use of our offices in 2019 and we’re poised to improve those results over the long-term with the move to remote-first as our default. 


During these uncertain times, we remain rooted in our mission to create economic opportunities so that people have better lives. It's through this lens that in 2020 we created new ways for our community to take their businesses to the next level, stood up for our values and beliefs, and took action to support our team and community through unprecedented disruption.

We’ve embraced this new reality—it’s embedded in our culture, our business model, and the mission that underpins everything we do. As the world defines a new normal, we know traditional models of work will change and Upwork is ready to help lead the way.

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Amy Sept

Amy Sept (@amysept) is an independent writer, editor, and content marketing strategist who’s dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes navigate the future of work. As a Canadian military spouse and slow traveller, she has a lot of hands-on experience with remote work, productivity hacks, and learning how to "go with the flow."

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