Photo by Ketut Subiyanto
In the not-so-distant past, data scientists were tethered to cubicles and confined to physical office spaces. However, times are changing, and the remote work revolution is reshaping the professional landscape.
Today, it is easier than ever to pursue your passion for data science while working from the comfort of your own home—or from anywhere you choose (well, anywhere with a solid internet connection, at least).
Like any career decision, however, remote work in data science comes with its pros and cons. Below, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of remote work in data science and equip you with the insights you need to make an informed choice.
Before moving on to any potential challenges or pitfalls with remote work, let’s lay out what the most significant benefits that this approach can have for data scientists are.
Flexibility and Work-Life Balance
Remote work liberates you from the rigid constraints of the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. Instead of adhering to a fixed timetable, you can tailor your work hours to your most productive times.
This newfound flexibility means that whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, you can optimize your work to align with your peak productivity hours and natural rhythm.
Another immediate benefit of remote work is the elimination of the daily commute – no more mind-numbing traffic jams or crowded public transportation. By reclaiming hours previously spent commuting, you can allocate your precious time to more meaningful pursuits, such as data analysis, self-improvement, or simply enjoying a leisurely breakfast.
Remote work also empowers you to blend your professional and personal life in a way that suits you. This harmonious integration allows you to be present for important family moments, schedule personal appointments without the hassle of requesting time off, and achieve a work-life balance that aligns with your unique needs and priorities.
Access to a Global Job Market
For data scientists, remote work doesn’t just break down geographical barriers; it opens up a world of possibilities and advantages that can transform your career. No longer confined to positions within a commutable radius, you can access a vast array of opportunities from across the globe.
This global job market offers you the chance to work with cutting-edge companies, startups, or established organizations, regardless of their physical location. The result? A broader spectrum of positions that cater to your unique skills and interests.
Access to a global job market also comes with the potential for high-paying data science jobs. Global companies often recognize the value of data scientists and are willing to offer competitive salaries to attract top talent. You can even leverage the opportunity to work for organizations in regions with higher average salaries.
Remote work grants you the freedom to curate your ideal work environment. You’re not confined to a standardized office setup; instead, you can choose a space that suits you best.
Whether you thrive in the cozy confines of your home office, the buzz of a coffee shop, or the tranquility of a park, you have the power to design a workspace that promotes your comfort and productivity.
Additionally, remote work offers a respite from the slew of distractions that are rife in the traditional office, such as chatty coworkers and impromptu meetings. This newfound focus can be a game-changer for data scientists, as it enables you to immerse yourself in complex analytical tasks and problem-solving without constant interruptions.
One of the most apparent cost-saving benefits of remote work is the elimination of transportation and commuting costs. You no longer have to budget for daily expenses associated with gas, public transportation fares, or vehicle maintenance.
Additionally, working remotely can open the door to potential tax benefits. Depending on your location and tax laws, you may be eligible for deductions related to your home office expenses.
These deductions can encompass a portion of your rent or mortgage, utilities, and even the purchase of office equipment and supplies. Consult with a tax professional to explore the tax advantages available to remote workers.
On a deeper note, remote work also allows data science professionals to move to areas with a lower average cost of living, allowing them to save a bigger portion of their checks each month.
Now that we’ve covered the various benefits that remote work can have in store for data scientists, it’s only fair to mention the potential challenges and shortcomings that can come with this approach to employment.
Lack of In-Person Interaction
Remote work can sometimes lead to a lack of in-person interaction, a hallmark of traditional office settings.
As a data scientist working remotely, you may find yourself missing the face-to-face engagement with colleagues, superiors, and peers. The absence of casual water-cooler conversations, impromptu brainstorming sessions, and the simple camaraderie of the workplace can create feelings of isolation.
Apart from the possible effect on mental health, social skills, particularly as they relate to the workplace, are an important element in climbing the ladder in your career.
Distractions and Lack of Discipline
Working from home can come with its fair share of potential distractions. Household chores, family members, pets, and personal responsibilities can encroach on your work time. Creating a clear boundary between your professional and personal life can be a struggle when they’re intertwined in the same physical space.
Additionally, remote work often demands a high level of self-discipline and effective time management. The absence of a structured office environment can lead to procrastination and time management issues. You might find it tempting to delay tasks or struggle to prioritize work when not under the watchful eye of supervisors or colleagues.
This is especially difficult when you need to maintain multiple clients in the data science field and successfully reach the KPIs set by each one, especially ones related to the marketing of the product/service you’re working on. For instance, if you’re working as a contractor data scientist for a SaaS company, you can expect to hear people asking you to hurry up so they can come up with a minimum viable product (MVP).
Remote work, while offering flexibility and independence, can also present a unique set of communication challenges for data scientists.
First, collaborating across time zones can be a significant challenge. This includes both collaborating with clients and team members. Scheduling meetings and coordinating tasks when there’s a substantial time difference can result in delays and disruptions. It requires careful planning and consideration to ensure effective communication and workflow.
Second, remote work heavily relies on written communication like email and instant messaging. Unfortunately, with written communication, there’s always the risk of messages being misinterpreted, which can sometimes lead to unnecessary delays or confusion.
Limited Job Security
Despite the growing popularity of remote working, many companies are still reluctant or simply unable to onboard data scientists remotely.
This means you can easily get stuck working on freelance or contractual per-project positions, such as using data science to help nonprofits find suitable banks and partners or using your specialization in autonomous transportation to advise cities on building smart traffic networks. Unfortunately, such positions often have poor job security and stability.
Sure, there are remote data science jobs and various side hustles, but expect to compromise if you don’t have much experience.
Remote work can be a fantastic opportunity for data scientists who prioritize autonomy, work-life balance, and flexibility. However, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully before committing to a remote career.
Remember, there’s no definitive right or wrong here – only what’s right for you. Your choice should be based on your individual circumstances, aspirations, and commitment to overcoming the potential challenges.
Whichever path you choose, the future of work will continue to evolve, and data science is no exception. That said, your expertise will remain a valuable and sought-after asset, whether you’re collaborating in a bustling office or quietly crunching numbers from the comfort of your home office.
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.