Shifts for flexible work are filling in a flash

Key takeaways

  • Our State of the Flexible Workforce report showed that shifts in most roles filled, on average, in less than 24 hours.
  • In the past 60 days, these average times to fill shifts fell below 10 hours.
  • A huge expansion in the supply of flexible labor, as well as increasing business expertise in using it, are likely explanations.

Shifts that fill up quickly are an essential feature of the market for flexible work. Businesses want to know as soon as possible that they can count on the labor they need, and workers know that shifts are desirable when they're usually taken in a short period of time. In our inaugural State of the Flexible Workforce report, we measured the time to fill shifts across a variety of roles... but we didn't expect that time to drop so quickly.

Done in less than a day

Here's the table that we published in our report, using data for the first half of 2022:


Occupational group Average hours to fill shifts booked up to a week in advance
Warehouse 7.0
Bussers and dishwashers 7.4
Bar staff 8.6
Servers and runners 9.0
General labor 9.1
Cooks 9.2
Custodial and cleanup staff 10.8
Food service staff 12.8
Counter and stand staff 15.6

Our Pros picked up warehouse shifts within just seven hours, on average, and even the shifts for counter and stand staff filled in less than a day. The liquidity of the labor market offered businesses a critical way of staying agile during uncertain economic times.

That uncertainty is still present today, with surveys of economists suggesting as much as a 65% chance of a recession in 2023. So how is our market for flexible labor looking now?

Here's the same table based on data from the past 60 days, with a comparison to the table above from our report: 


Occupational group Average hours to fill shifts Change versus 1H22
Warehouse 6.5 -0.5
Bussers and dishwashers 4.3 -3.1
Bar staff 5.6 -3.0
Servers and runners 6.3 -2.7
General labor 7.6 -1.5
Cooks 5.6 -3.6
Custodial and cleanup staff 9.1 -1.7
Food service staff 6.3 -6.5
Counter and stand staff 9.1 -6.5

In the past two months, the average time to fill shifts has dropped below 10 hours for every occupational group. The biggest changes were in hospitality occupations, with smaller changes in warehouse, custodial, and general labor roles. Employment in the hospitality sector is still hundred of thousands of jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, so the increasing liquidity of the market for flexible work may be another sign that workers are starting to return.

A surge in labor supply

Several factors are driving this enormous change. One is the growth of our workforce – our Pro network now numbers close to 4 million workers, having roughly doubled in 2022. Interest in flexible work is at unprecedented levels, driven in part by higher consumer prices and interest rates; people are looking for ways to make extra money. And the market for flexible work is also developing career paths and creating new options in the labor market.

Another factor is businesses' deepening expertise in deploying flexible work. Many of our Partners now use rosters and long-term assignments to build relationships with Pros and route shifts to the Pros who are the best matches for the work. They can also offer higher rates exclusively to our most experienced and reliable Pros, to ensure a quick response and quality work.

We think an economic downturn is likely to increase both the supply and demand for flexible work. People who lose other sources of income will be able to earn the money they need by picking up shifts. Meanwhile, companies looking to fine-tune their labor supply against a backdrop of uncertain demand will find platforms like ours especially useful. If the market grows in a balanced fashion, then the time to fill shifts should stay low and steady.


Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 12/29/2022 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.09 drop in hourly pay

  • 1.1% point rise in share of short-notice shifts

  • 1.2 hours rise in hours per existing worker

To receive future briefings and data insights from our Economic Research team, please subscribe below. Follow Daniel Altman on Twitter at @AltmanEcon or on LinkedIn.

Instawork Economic Research Newsletter

Browse Articles