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When Motivation Becomes Desperation: Online Freelancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Dunn, M., Stephany, F., Swayer, S., Munoz, I., Raheja, R., Vaccaro, G., & Lehdonvirta, V.
Published in:
Year: 2020
Type: Working paper
DOI: 10.31235/

This study combines market-level data about changes in jobs offered via online labor platforms and interviews with online freelance workers to highlight how freelancers are responding to the novel coronavirus’s presence. We pursue this work recognizing that as the scope and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, the implications to workers and labor markets are profound. Our focus on online labor markets and workers reflects our enduring interest in knowledge work, with a particular attention to precarious work. Market data show the dramatic shifts in work availability (supply) and the changes in worker availability (demand) as the United States’ economy struggles with the initial burst of effects of a pandemic. Interview data reveal that freelance workers are aware of these shifts. These changes to already- precarious and market-driven work arrangements are magnified by the realities of balancing family members’ changes in job status, working around children who are home from school, and re-organizing work and lives to account for the rapid onset and confusion of stay-at-home requirements and the uncertainty that is the core of the pandemic. Findings suggest work flexibility, which seems central to freelancer’s motivation to pursue such work, is diminishing and instead freelancers are being driven by desperation rooted in the acknowledged precarity of their situation, magnified by the constellation of events reshaping their working arrangements. We further observe that these effects vary by occupation and are more keenly experienced by women freelancers, both of which warrant additional attention.

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