Cooperation in the Gig Economy: Insights from Upwork Freelancers

Zachary Fulker, Christoph Riedl
Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Volume 8 Issue CSCW1
April 26, 2024


Existing literature on online labor markets predominantly focuses on how freelancers individually complete tasks and projects. Our study examines freelancers' willingness to work collaboratively. We report results from a survey of 122 freelancers on a leading online labor market platform (Upwork) that examine freelancers' preferences for collaborative work arrangements, and that explore several antecedents of cooperative behaviors. We then test if actual cooperative behavior matches with freelancers' stated preferences through an incentivized social dilemma experiment. We find that respondents cooperate at a higher rate (85%) than reported in previous comparable studies (between 50-75%). This high rate of cooperation may be explained by an ingroup bias. Using a sequential mediation model, we demonstrate the importance of a sense of shared expectations and accountability for cooperation. We contribute to a better understanding of the potential for collaborative work on online labor market platforms by assessing if and what social factors and collective culture exist among freelancers. We discuss the implications of our results for platform designers by highlighting the importance of platform features that promote shared expectations and improve accountability. Overall, contrary to existing literature and predictions, our results suggest that freelancers in our sample display traits that are more consistent with belonging to a coherent group with a shared collective culture, rather than being anonymous actors in a transaction-based market.

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