10 Million U.S. Employees Are Considering Freelancing as Alternative to Full-Time Onsite Work Amid Pandemic

10 Million U.S. Employees Are Considering Freelancing as Alternative to Full-Time Onsite Work Amid Pandemic

More than a third of remote workers aren’t excited to return to the office amid the COVID-19 pandemic
woman working remote with headset on

With the reopening of the American economy, many business owners are pushing for a return to pre-pandemic work arrangements — including full-time, onsite work.

However, after over a year of working from home, employees are balking at the idea of returning to the office amid a global health crisis. As a result, many are weighing the other options available to them.

In the latest survey from freelance work marketplace Upwork, the company found that 20% of employed Americans — 10 million workers — are now considering freelance work as an alternative to full-time employment. The majority of this group (73%) are drawn to this alternative primarily for the ability to work remotely and gain more flexibility.

Employees want to work from home, and some are willing to take a pay cut to do so

Even though the U.S. is still tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are already mandating a return to the workplace for their employees. Of those who worked remotely during the health crisis, 25% have already begun working onsite and another 38% will eventually come back.

But although 24% of remote workers are happy to return to onsite full-time work, 34% of respondents are unhappy with this decision — including 31% of those who are only working in the office part time.

A different survey from FlexJobs looked into this further and found that more women want to continue working remotely full time, while men are more likely to prefer a hybrid work setup over other arrangements.

With COVID-19 infection rates up and vaccination rates in the U.S. leveling out, it comes as little surprise that so many employees are reluctant to return to the workplace. Instead, 17% of pandemic-era remote workers — or about 9 million employees — say they would probably or definitely consider looking for a new opportunity if they were forced to return to onsite full-time work.

The Upwork survey revealed that 52% of those who definitely plan on quitting are considering freelancing instead. Additional findings indicate that some would sacrifice a percentage of their income to continue working from home. More specifically:

  • 15% of employees would take a pay cut to work remotely and 26% would consider it
  • 24% of employees not excited about returning to the office would take a pay cut to work remotely and 35% would consider it

Respondents reveal biggest benefits of a freelance career

Of course, remote work isn't the only benefit of being a freelancer — and as Upwork found out, it isn't even the biggest benefit for those who would consider freelancing as an alternative to full-time work.

In fact, the most popular reasons (in order) this group gave for wanting to freelance include:

  • Having a more flexible schedule
  • Not having to drive to work
  • Having more personal time
  • Being able to work remotely

Meanwhile, another survey undertaken by Ivanti showed additional benefits drawing employees to remote work: saving money by working from home and maintaining a better work-life balance.

Methodology: Upwork conducted an online survey of 4,000 adults (age 18 and older) via Google Consumer Surveys from June 14 to July 16, 2021. Data was weighted using a two-step process to ensure the representativeness of the survey. A follow-up survey of 1,000 people was conducted using the same methodology.