The Great
Work Teardown

over the
past year...

The Great
Work Teardown


Dramatic shifts in work trends have upended generations-old beliefs around when, where, and how people work.

Knowledge workers expect more from a job than simply exchanging their skills and time for a paycheck and benefits.

Businesses are scrambling to add skills and finding that existing ways of hiring and managing talent are no longer effective.

There’s a breakdown of the traditional workplace, workforce, and worklife. And independent professionals are powering the rebuild.

See what’s changing

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Redefining the Workforce

What’s happening

Businesses are racing toward recovery but are running out of steam

Businesses are desperate to add new skills and expand teams, but they’re grappling with a talent shortage for roles at every level. Meanwhile, work continues mounting with urgency as the pandemic sped up timelines for vital initiatives, like digital transformation.

The recovering economy is straining resources further as businesses scramble to meet the pace of growth and respond to changing customer behavior.

of teams are hiring within the next 6 months, but they’re having trouble finding talent.

Difficulty hiring
Roles in demand
Architecture & Engineering
IT & Networking
Customer Support
Web, Mobile & Software Development
Admin Support
Data Science & Analytics
Design & Creative
Writing & Content
What needs to change

Squeezing endless productivity from workers

Professionals are burning out from unrelenting workloads, keeping up with an unsustainable work pace, and feeling overwhelmed by a shortage of resources and support. Many are hitting a breaking point and quitting—or considering it.

50% of businesses report higher turnover compared to pre-pandemic.

Businesses must slow the exodus, but they will continue losing valuable talent as long as they hold onto these outdated workforce practices:

Trying to train your way through a talent shortage

Reskilling takes time and the skills needed to push business ahead can change at any moment. For workers already struggling with long work days, expecting them to find time for reskilling may be asking too much.

Viewing freelancers as a last resort

Freelancers often provide highly skilled work, so you’re overlooking valuable talent if you only engage freelancers for small projects, routine work, or as a stopgap when searching for a full-time hire. In fact, half of freelancers provide in-demand services including data science, computer programming, marketing, and business consulting. And more and more professionals are choosing to freelance because of the flexibility, control, and opportunities it provides.

Thinking talent is something you acquire

When skills gaps arise, companies default to adding employees. But if you follow this approach every time, you lose operational agility. Hiring is time-consuming and expensive. And only some skills are needed on an ongoing basis.

What businesses are doing about it

Adding independent talent

Businesses are creating hybrid teams made up of employees and independent professionals working together to accomplish a common objective.

This model leverages independent talent in a way that provides teams flexible and unlimited resources, so they can complete all their initiatives—no matter how complex—under tight timelines and with less stress.

of businesses plan to significantly increase their usage of remote freelancers in the next 2 years

With a hybrid workforce, productivity gains are just a start. Businesses also benefit from:

  • Checkmark
    Access to the best talent anywhere, not just local workers
  • Checkmark
    The ability to address skills gaps in days, not weeks or months
  • Checkmark
    Higher employee engagement
  • Checkmark
    Greater diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and ideas

To succeed, leaders must shift how they look at their workforce by adopting the following approaches:

Letting employees focus on the core work

In a hybrid team, employees don’t have to do everything because they have help. Employees can focus on what they do best or on work that only they can do. Independent talent can handle everything else.

Ken Circeo, Senior Creative Director, Microsoft

Thinking talent is something you access as needed

Seeing talent as a flexible resource that you engage through various types of relationships, including full time and freelance, enables you to achieve more. You can access any skill, at any time, to produce anything.

"Our team's ability to to put out a request for freelance talent and fill the request and get high quality talent to complete a project in a matter of days, where the same project in the past would have taken weeks or even months to complete is just remarkable. And once you've experienced that, there's really no going back."

Gail Giacobbe, General Manager, Microsoft 365

Seeing freelancers as problem prevention

Engage on-demand talent to stay ahead of issues and respond swiftly to challenges and opportunities.

Relying on freelance specialists to do critical work

The percentage of work done by freelancers is high across key functional areas.


Making talent a variable cost

Contract several specialists on demand instead of locking up budgets with a single full-time hire.

“Most of our work is specialized and on a project basis. For example, we don’t need a full-time Salesforce expert, but we needed to contract one to build out a custom CRM. We use Upwork to find the best of the best in whatever skillsets we need, so we can maximize our talent ROI spend. This leaves us more money to reinvest into sales, marketing, and other areas of the business."

Nick Mihnovets, CEO, VitaminEnergy


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Restructuring the Workplace

What’s happening

Businesses must commit to remote work now or lose to companies that do

Offices have reopened, but many professionals aren’t willing to give up the flexibility of working from home. Over one third (34%) of workers would rather not return to the office, ever.

What best describes how you feel about being required to return to the office?
Not excited
Neutral or have mixed feelings

Findings from our report, The Great Resignation, also show a good number of employed professionals will leave if not given a remote work option.

say they would look for another job
are unsure, which signals they may be willing to leave
are considering becoming freelancers
In response, businesses are adopting a hybrid workplace where people split their time between working onsite and remotely.
To support a hybrid workplace model, offices are being redesigned to focus less as a place for day-to-day work and more a place for collaboration.

Business leaders across industries are acknowledging that:

The internet is the new workplace


of companies are fully remote today


expect to be fully remote 5 years from now


expect to be fully remote 12 months from now

Source: Upwork

Remote work is good for workers


are more productive working from home


people planned to relocate due to a greater ability to work remotely


is saved in annual commuting costs for each person who works remotely

Source: Upwork

Remote work is good for businesses


increase in productivity


reduction in unscheduled absences


per employee per year savings on office and related expenses

What needs to change

Rigid rules born from the Industrial Age

In their desire to maintain the flexibility experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown, knowledge workers are pushing back against 100-year-old workplace practices that persist out of habit rather than necessity.

American professionals will be fully remote in the next five years
“We cannot use the lens that we had during the Industrial Revolution to imagine the future of work. It's a different world. People, technology, and data will continue to drive how work gets done, and it's not going to be butts in seats and nine to five."

Tsedal Neeley, Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Workers are taking a page from the freelancing lifestyle by challenging old-school practices like these:

Mandating a 9-to-5 workday

Set work hours were originally created for assembly line workers. But knowledge workers need focus time to digest and apply information. It matters less which hours of the day they’re working, so long as they’re able to collaborate with others and, ultimately, get the job done on time.

Thinking that culture can only form in the office

Thriving remote-first companies, such as Automattic and GitHub, busted this myth long ago.

Adhering to a 40-hour workweek

For knowledge work, it’s what gets done that matters, not the time spent doing it. Businesses and governments testing 32-hour workweeks are seeing higher engagement and productivity.

Expecting that work must be done in the office

For decades, tech startups have relied on distributed teams to access the best minds and profit from 24-hour workflows.

What businesses are doing about it

Centering on the worker, not the workplace

If your business clings to a “that’s how it’s always been done” mentality, you risk losing valuable talent and your ability to compete. That’s why progressive businesses are giving professionals flexibility over how, where, and when work gets done without losing control over growth.

"Companies need to invest in distributed teams because it’s the best way to work. It empowers your team to focus on just the work and not need to worry about an office setup that doesn’t work for them or a long commute that doesn’t work for them or a schedule that doesn’t work for them. Your team can just focus on getting things done."
Steph Yiu

Steph Yiu, Head of Support, WordPress VIP

Modern leaders are doing the following:

Intentionally cultivating culture

Proactively promote the business’s vision, values, and culture through online and offline experiences. That may include Zoom meet-and-greets with new hires and virtual happy hours to protocols for addressing challenges/conflict, and processes that ensure everyone’s voice is heard.


Larry English, President, Centric Consulting

Accepting that work can be done from anywhere

Freeing people from the office satisfies their desire for flexibility. It also gives you the opportunity to hire and contract the best talent, no matter where they’re located.

“I get so many more brains working on a problem than I could ever get hiring full-time employees. We’re continuously looking for ways to connect with talented people wherever they’re located, so they can help us reach our customers and build better products.”

Shannon Williams, Co-founder and VP Sales, Rancher Labs

Managing outcomes, not output

Match each person to work they do best, trust they’ll do a great job, give them support as needed, and generally get out of their way. Focus on end results, not activities or hours spent in seats.

Cara Bedford, Director of Strategic Marketing, CompuVision

Addressing mental wellness

You can reduce stress on your team and the risk of burnout by offering options like a 4-day workweek, remote work, and flexible schedules.

“The most forward-thinking companies are building a bench of skilled remote freelancers to prevent burnout from taking hold. Managers can tap these professionals again and again when workloads rise and core team members need support. Remote freelancers on the bench are available at any time, for any project. They serve as an instant pressure-release value.”

Tim Sanders, VP of Customer Insights, Upwork

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Revamping the Worklife

What’s happening

Workers are forgoing work-life balance in favor of work-life fulfillment

The pandemic created so much social and economic chaos that it pushed professionals to ask themselves introspective questions like:

For many, their answers helped them identify aspects of their worklife that did not fit their goals and priorities. The awareness inspired them to seek greater control of their careers and personal lives.

What do I want from work?
What do I want to achieve?
How do I want to spend my time?
What needs to change

Giving employers all the control

Humans have a fundamental need for autonomy: to live life according to one’s own decisions and reasons.

The insecurities and suffering endured during the pandemic intensified this basic need, which is pushing up against restrictions that are inherent in traditional jobs.

Reasons why people freelance


To have flexibility in my schedule


To be in control of my own financial future


To work from the location of my choosing


To be my own boss


To pursue work I am passionate about or find meaningful


To be able to spend more time with my family

Workers are tired of how:
  • Life must fit in between work.
  • Work isn’t fulfilling.
  • Employers control everything, from one’s earnings to one’s career trajectory.
What workers are doing about it

Becoming full-time freelancers

Professionals from Gen Z to Baby Boomers are renouncing traditional jobs to become full-time freelancers. Across every generation, an overwhelming majority make the leap because they want to, not because they have to.

They’re all attracted by the chance to be their own boss and take charge over how they spend their time and what they achieve. See all the details in our Flexibility Through Freelancing study.

Upwork Freelancer

For those who can quit and work remotely, many are creating value, freedom and flexibility in their worklife as freelancing enables professionals to: 

Determine your own earnings potential

You set your rates and control how quickly and how large your business grows. Compared to being employed, most people (57%) earn more as a freelancer within 6 months.

set their own prices
raised their rates within the past year

Do work that’s meaningful

Do what you’re passionate about by choosing what projects you work 
on and the companies you work with.

“When people talk about freedom and flexibility, they think about freedom of place and freedom of time, but there really is freedom, I think, to create a really unique career path for yourself.”

Jaime Hollander, Freelance Content Strategist

Design work to fit around your life

Earning a living doesn’t get in the way of caring for loved ones, attending a child’s school performance in the middle of the day, or traveling.


Khary Reynolds, Freelance Hubspot Developer

Dictate your career trajectory

Fast-track your career by gaining exposure to more challenging projects and different industries. Instead of waiting for someone to offer you a promotion when it’s right for them, you’re in charge of how much you advance and at what speed.

“Out of college, instead of taking the traditional path of formal internships or entry-level roles, I focused on projects that required leading global and remote teams. Which meant I did in months what would have taken years via a traditional route. This led to a job building and leading a product for a global tech giant at the age of 26 instead of waiting until I was 36.”

Matthew Mottola, Co-Founder and CEO, Venture L

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The Redesign

The world of work has profoundly changed. Workplaces must transform. Workforces must adapt. And workflows must modernize.

Now is the ideal time to introduce change because COVID-19 was an equal opportunity disruptor. Supply chain troubles, economic instability, the race to digitize, and talent shortages impacted us all. 

You have a narrow window of time to redesign the key components of work that determine if you will accomplish your growth goals, achieve digital transformation, and remain competitive.

Are you ready to start your redesign?

Watch our webinar to learn more about what to expect going forward and how to succeed in the new world of work.

Watch Now
“Just as the last couple of years have taught us that there’s more than one way to work, in the future, employers will begin to realize the hidden and long-term benefits of remote and freelance work, like improved morale, increased productivity, and, in many cases, lower costs. I believe, in the next 10 years or so, the 40-hour workweek will be seen as outdated and archaic, and will no longer be considered to be the norm.”

Morgan Overholt, CEO, Morgan Media, LLC

“If you don't adapt and plug into the remote economy, you're going to be at an even greater hiring disadvantage than you were pre-pandemic.”
Adam Ozimek

Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist, Upwork

“I see people becoming more and more remote and able to live the life they want on their own terms. I worked remotely even before the pandemic. Clients often wished to meet me in person or were cautious about working with someone online. That all changed in 2020. Now and in the future, what matters is whether or not you have the skills to finish the given task, not where you are located. My company hires freelancers globally and is only concerned with their skill level. I have discovered that when you give this freedom to the people you hire, they are more motivated, happier, and results-driven because they feel this sense of freedom and empowerment to live life on their own terms."
Melissa Hong

Melissa Hong, Web and Mobile Developer

“In the next five years, the world of work will change even more than it has already with the growth of remote work and the ability to reach talent faster. Future teams will be more flexible. And yet we will remain connected and share personal moments. At the big organizations I work with, there can be a person working late at night about to go to sleep while another person is having their morning coffee. We still find a way to relate and create an amazing connection because we are all passionate and proud of the work we do.”

Oren Taub, Freelance Graphic Designer

“Freelancing will continue to grow in the future. More industry experts will stream into the freelancing world. Startups seeking talent from developing countries will grow. Talent from developing countries, especially in Africa, will increase as well. Some countries that never had regulations for independent contractors and freelancers may start developing policies in that regard.”
Motunarayo Kilanko

Motunrayo Kilanko, Data Annotation Consultant and Business Manager

“The future state is going to be one that is more on-demand, more remote. You can have a workforce that’s not within your brick and mortar organization respectively. COVID has shown us even now that this is going to become a new normal.”
Amy Grant

Amy Grant, Former Head of Brand and Consumer, Digicel

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