If you want to be successful from anywhere, you need to create a single source of truth for the most important stuff that everyone should know. Many people call this repository a company handbook. The idea of a handbook has been popularized by all-remote organizations like GitLab (they have a 4,000+ page handbook!)
This information frequently lives in a wiki like Confluence, Notion, Google Docs, or Word. Your company handbook should contain the most important information like:
- Mission, Vision, Values
- Annual Goals and KPIs
- Company Policies (Vacation, Holidays, Leave, etc.)
- Hiring processes
- Employee/team directory
This handbook aims to provides organizational context, which guides decision making, expected behavior, and helps the entire company level-up. If you don’t have a handbook, people will need to gather context over time (through trial and error), which is an epic waste of time and leads to alignment issues.
If you value your time, you should create a handbook, even if it’s not perfect. For example, if you are an early stage startup, you may not have clarity on what your company value should be. For many leaders, these are lessons we learn over time. Don’t let this stop you. Focus on progress over perfection.
The minimum viable company handbook
If you’re looking to get something off the ground quickly, here’s a simple framework for you to use:
1. Building Blocks
- Founding story/history of company
- Mission, vision, values
- Who we serve (customer personas)
- Why we are different (unique differentiators)
- Annual goals
- Product principles
- How we hire
2. People and Teams
- Org structure
- People profiles
- Team profiles
3. The day-to-day
- How we communicate
- Tools we use
- Standard operating procedures
- Monthly or quarterly goals
I’ve outlined these sections in a bit more detail below:
The building blocks outline the most important information. Imagine a new employee who joins your company – what do they need to know? In this section, consider including the founding story, the mission, company values, and other foundational principles that guide daily action.
People and Teams
In the people-and-teams section, there should be structure to help everyone navigate the people side of the business. For example, what teams exist inside the company and what is their North Star?
You should also create people profiles for each member of your team where they can add more information, like their personality, hobbies, location, and other information that can help break the ice. When working from anywhere, it can be incredibly difficult to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, so you need context to grease the wheels for interesting conversations.
The day-to-day section aims to encapsulate the information that someone might need to access on an everyday basis. This is for existing employees instead of new hires. Unlike the other sections that rarely change, this content will change much more frequently, which is why it deserves its own section in the handbook.
Potential roadblocks you may run into:
While creating a company handbook is important, there are potential pitfalls for which you will need to be on the lookout:
1. Wikis are like file cabinets
Your team won’t regularly visit a wiki unless you constantly point people to it. Knowledge management tools function a bit like a file cabinet. You only access them when you need them.
This lack of visibility can limit effectiveness when you try to reinforce company values and quarterly goals. If these waypoints are not front and center, your team will forget about them, which limits the effectiveness of the handbook.
2. Content can become stale quickly
Another downside of a company wiki is that it’s easy to forget to keep them updated. The content becomes stale and out of date.
3. Everyone has an opinion on structure
If you aren’t intentional about designing the structure of the wiki, it will get confusing quickly. Everyone has an opinion about content should be structured and it can become chaotic, especially as your company grows. This is why larger organizations will hire dedicated librarians (knowledge management professionals) to help separate the signal from the noise.
As for you, you probably can’t afford to hire a full-time librarian. Once again, this is why long-term content should go in one section, and day-to-day content should be located in another. Additionally, you should consider restricting edit access to reduce chaos.
4. A tax on the most productive people
The final point I will make is that wikis tend to be a tax on the most productive people in the organization. If someone is asked the same question over and over, at some point, they will get sick and tired of repeating themselves, so they will write things down in the wiki and share the page instead. You cannot build a successful async-first organization if the only time people want to contribute to a wiki is when they are annoyed with a coworker. There needs to be a better way to get the average person in your company excited about communicating asynchronously. This can't be a ritual that only a small percentage of your company participates in.
“Starting my first day working at Friday, I was so excited to jump headfirst into the company and start working. My first meeting with Luke was onboarding alongside another intern, where we’d go over the company culture, values, and other important information to know about Friday.
It was really helpful getting the context of the company before starting to work there because I felt I wasn’t walking into it blindly. Having never worked remotely before, I was worried about how I’d be able to grasp everything at the company without the extensive paperwork and having the close proximity of my fellow coworkers to ask questions.
Overall it helped me get a sense of what to expect during my time here.”
I’d encourage you to focus most of your energy on how to make your handbook easy to discover and navigate. If you don’t do this, you should expect to answer the same questions over and over.
Want to keep reading? In the next chapter we will discuss how to cut internal meetings in half.