Discover more from All Remote - with Mark Wormgoor
Navigating Learning with Remote Developers
Comfort, Stretch, and Panic zones
Learning and development are like navigating uncharted waters. It’s hard with a small in-office company; it’s so much harder in a remote organization. Still - you don’t want your developers to stand still. You want them to learn and grow as your organization grows. We already talked about the 70:20:10 framework last week. This week, we’re going into the zones we traverse — comfort, stretch, and panic. Understanding these zones can help us define how remote developers grow. But what do these zones mean, and how can we use them to our advantage?
Remote development brings unique challenges. Working from home can lead to a lower focus on personal growth, leading to stagnation. On the other hand - without a close and trusting relationship with their (remote) manager - it’s easy for a remote developer to end up with overwhelming stress in the panic zone. Finding the right balance is essential but often elusive.
Our Learning Zones
By understanding the zones, you, your team leads and your developers can understand where they are right now, and where they would like to be. From there, they can plot a course how to get there.
What’s really important to understand here is that these zones are different for every person. I’ve worked with people that would continuously ask for more difficult tasks, challenging themselves, wanting to learn & grow at lightning speed. Others would be stressed and in their panic zone with just a small stretch of their daily tasks.
Where people are comfortable also differs over time. Myself, I thrive on change, new tasks, growth and being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I’m perfectly OK with even more than a little panic sometimes. However… I’ve had years where my personal life needed all my attention. At that time, I told my manager I was going to do my job - but that was it. I was happy to be in the comfort zone so I could spend my time and energy with my family.
Here, our tasks are familiar and easy. We’ve done it before, and we don’t have to think too much to do it again. For a developer - building a frontend with the same tools and frameworks we’ve used many times over, building our tenth Flutter app, or building enhancements or fixes in an application we know intimately.
In general, there's very little stress here, but also little growth. The tasks can become repetitive and boring over time. Boring work which has no challenges is also something that over time can lead to anxiety, stress and even burn-out. In general, people need a bit of a challenge. It helps them feel like they’re adding value, like their skills are being put to good use.
Action: Recognize the need to step up and look for some new challenges.
This is the sweet spot for learning, where challenges are stimulating but not overwhelming. For developers - working on new projects, or implementing new technologies. This is also where mistakes are made. Create room for (acceptable) mistakes and use those as learning opportunities to grow.
Action: Encourage some further exploration, provide support where needed, and foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning.
This is where tasks become too challenging. When you can’t handle a task, or the risk when making a mistake is too great, this leads to stress and anxiety. These are also the situations that can lead to burn-out. For developers - of course this includes unreasonable delivery deadlines (which we’ve all seen), but also lack of support.
Action: If someone is here, you’ll need to take immediate action. This can be damaging to the person (stress, anxiety, burn-out), but if mistakes are made - it can also seriously damage the wider team and organization. Provide support, consider adding resources, mentoring / coaching, or some additional slack in the deadlines to make the planning more manageable.
An occasional trip to the panic zone isn’t necessarily bad. For a developer to understand where their boundaries are, an occasional trip to the panic zone is necessary. To be able to recognize it, they will need to have visited it. However… it’s a place to visit together. Make sure they have all the support they need, so when this happens, it can be discussed immediately.
Also, the comfort zone doesn’t have to be a bad place. It’s where we consolidate learning. And, as I mentioned before, it can be a place where we can work comfortably if our personal life needs our attention. In either case, it shouldn’t become a permanent dwelling.
Understanding the comfort, stretch, and panic zones isn't just a theoretical model. It's a practical guide to personal and professional growth. For remote developers, navigating these zones with awareness and intention can foster a fulfilling and productive career.
Are you looking to hire remote developers, but still unsure if remote is for you? Would like to learn more about training your developers? Reach out to us at Tairi.
Now that we’ve covered hiring and onboarding, learning and development, in my next story, I’m going further into (remote) developer productivity. If you haven’t already, subscribe below to receive it!