5 Traits of the Modern Independent Workforce

By MBO Partners | January 3, 2023


Key Points

An expanding segment of the labor market, the independent worker provides businesses with professional experience.

The workers are taking advantage of the freedom and lifestyle independent work provides.

Independents said they had greater control over where and how they work.

The modern independent workforce runs businesses from anywhere in the world, increasingly works together in teams, and finds new projects using online marketplaces. These workers are finding their place in America’s larger workforce, bringing skilled expertise to fill critical job openings while enjoying the flexibility and lifestyle independent work offers. Enterprises are increasingly recognizing the value independent professionals bring—from in-demand skills and staffing flexibility to cost savings and increased efficiency. 

As this workforce continues to play a critical role in the workforce strategy of organizations across the board, it is an indication of how work will look in the future: project-based work that can be outsourced rather than hiring for a defined job role. Below, we explore five traits independent professionals bring to the table.

1. Independent Creators are on the Rise

Independents are a big part of the creator economy. Monetizing knowledge skills, digital content creators are entrepreneurial and enjoy the control and flexibly that accompanies independent work. Creators use platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Patreon, and Twitch to distribute and monetize digital content. The number of independent creators rose 15% from 7.1 million in 2020 to 8.1 million in 2022. Most independent creators—74%—are aged 40 or younger. 

Most independent creators work part-time. Digital content tools are inexpensive and have a low barrier to entry, making them very accessible as a side-gig. The majority of creators, 83%, report being very satisfied with their work. Because the creator economy encourages people to pursue their passions and be their own boss, this high level of satisfaction is not too surprising. In the future, 3.2 million Americans who are not currently engaged in the creator economy said they plan to become content creators over the next two years. 

2. They Want to Work This Way

Of course, independent work isn’t for everyone. But for those choosing to work independently, 64% say working as an independent was their choice entirely. And 76% say they are very satisfied with their work. In the future, over half say they will continue to work independently and nearly one in five say they plan to build a bigger business.  

Many people pursue independence for the flexibility it provides, and a focus on well-being is a big part of job satisfaction for many. In 2022, 84% of independents say they are happier working on their own and 80% say that working on their own is better for their health.

3. They are Relying on Online Marketplaces and Social Media to Find Work

In the past, word-of-mouth was the main way most independents found work. In fact, in 2015, 81% of independents said they found jobs through word-of-mouth. But this is quickly changing. Independents are relying more on one another as a source of work as well as online talent marketplaces and social media. In 2022, 41% of independents report finding work on talent platforms, a 15% increase from 2015. And even more—46%—plan to use an online marketplace to find work over the next 12 months.  

Social media has become more popular as well. Since 2015, nearly double the number of independents have found work on social media. The creator economy is a large part of this growth and 75% of independents say social media is very or somewhat important to building their reputation. In essence, social media is taking the place of word-of-mouth. 

4. They Are Teaming Up

Working in teams is common practice within organizations and between vendors, contractors, freelancers, and other business partners. It’s therefore no surprise that teaming up is becoming more popular among independent workers themselves. In 2022, 26% of full-time independents said they teamed up with other independents or microbusinesses in their work. This number is a significant increase from just 19% in 2020.  

Over the next year, 30% of independents say they will likely team up. Teaming allows independents to get more work done in a cost-effective manner. It is also beneficial to enterprises as it can result in a more cohesive result and increased productivity.

5. They Continue to Work from the Road

Digital Nomads are people who embrace a location-independent, technology enabled lifestyle. This group of workers has increased an astonishing 131% from 2019. This way of working appeals particularly to independents who want to travel and can run their business from the road, but many of these workers also hold traditional jobs. Most digital nomads are Millennials and 49% are male. 

This group spans a wide variety of industries from information technology and creative services to sales, education, and finance. Digital nomads are tech-savvy, with 86% reporting that ty use technology to make themselves more competitive in their work, compared to 47% of non-digital nomads. The majority of digital nomads are very satisfied with their work and plan to continue working this way for the next 2-3 years. This is a trendy way of working and 72 million Americans say they plan on becoming digital nomads in the next 2-3 years, an increase from 65 million in 2020. 

To learn more about the modern independent workforce, check out our 2022 State of Independence research. 

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