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The Pandemic Accelerated Independent Worker Use of Online Marketplaces

One of the most significant shifts we’ve seen over the 11 years of the ongoing MBO Partners State of Independence study series is the increased use of online marketplaces to find work/customers by freelancers and other independent workers.

As the study chart below shows (click to enlarge), in 2012, only 3 percent of full-time independent workers reported having used an online marketplace to find work or customers in the prior 12 months.

In 2021, 40% said they had.

Online marketplace usage 2021

The pandemic clearly accelerated the use of online marketplaces. Their use grew steadily from 2012 to 2020, then jumped substantially in 2021, increasing from 27% in 2020.

Obviously, the pandemic-induced shift to remote work and the need for people who lost jobs or had their hours cut to generate income resulted in more independent workers turning to marketplaces.

About one-third (37%) of those reporting using online marketplaces say these platforms are their primary source of customers. For the rest, online marketplaces have become important secondary and tertiary sources of work. Independent workers also use them to fill in gaps in their work schedules, explore new markets, find new clients and learn new skills.

We expect to see continued growth in the use of online marketplaces in the coming years. But we also believe their growth rate will return to pre-pandemic levels.

Steve King

Steve King is an advisory board member of JEM and a founding partner of Emergent Research where he leads the firm’s ongoing research identifying, analyzing and forecasting the global trends and shifts impacting consumers, small businesses, the gig economy, independent workers and Web 3.0’s role in future of work. Steve enjoys wide industry recognition as an expert on the future of work. He is an active public speaker and has written for the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, U.S. News and World Report, Venture Beat, Wired and other publications.

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