Why you should write an employee handbook (it’s so worth it)

Your team will thank you later. We'll explain how great handbooks are written, why they benefit the team, and offer a sneak peek inside our own handbook.

July 2, 2021

Let’s imagine that it’s your first month working in a remote company. You’re busy with your tasks when you see a calendar reminder pop-up on your screen: Dentist tomorrow at 2 PM. Yikes! You somehow totally forgot about this appointment.

In a slight moment of panic, you wonder what to do: “Am I allowed to see the dentist in the middle of the day or do I need to reschedule? And who do I inform?”

When working in a real office, these types of situations can be easily addressed. You could randomly ask a colleague at the coffee machine or quickly check with the teammate sitting next to you.

In remote environments, it’s a bit different. Reaching out via DM to a team member can feel like a whole thing, and asking your supervisor directly might make you uncomfortable.

For these occasions (and many more), your company needs an employee handbook—one centralized space where all the information on how a company operates is stored. This documentation makes your team feel more comfortable at work and gives them the knowledge to make decisions independently.

Read on as we’ll explain why your team needs an employee handbook. We’ll share ours at the very end!


The 5 rules of a great employee handbook

Though the content of your employee handbook is entirely up to you, the best ones have a few things in common.

Rule 1. Accessible online

Okay okay, maybe it’s a no-brainer, but it’s important nevertheless. Make sure that all the information in the handbook is accessible online. We use Notion for our handbook, but you can use any online knowledge base tools or work in a document on your shared drive.

Rule 2. Easy and organized

Make sure that there’s a table of contents or overview page, and a search function available. This makes it easy for employees to quickly find what they’re looking for. Ideally, all pages are clearly linked and logically connected. When adding Google Docs or YouTube links, add a short description so people know what they’re clicking on. It also helps to craft clear headlines with keywords that people might search for.

Rule 3. Scannable

Very few people will read through your entire handbook, they much rather scan for the information they’re looking for. Work with clear headings, bold-formatted texts, and bullet points so readers can get the gist without having to read the text in its entirety.

Rule 4. Managed by dedicated people

From our experience, it’s best to give each department its own workspace and assign one person that’s responsible for writing and updating the content. Team members should know who’s responsible for which section, so they can forward their suggestions to them.

Rule 5. Always in movement

Your handbook will always be a work in progress—as it should be! Processes change, teams grow and products evolve, so there’s always a need for updated content. Engage your team (especially new team members) by asking them what information is missing or can be improved.


What you’ll discover when writing your own handbook

When putting together your handbook, write down how processes are done today—not how you’d ideally like them to be done.

This helps you to structurize processes and uncover things that can be improved as you’re writing. Maybe you’ll find out that you’re not sure about your company’s policies. Now you can reflect, come up with a better method and share this approach with the people involved.

Along the way, you might also stumble upon things that were previously taken for granted. Once written down and shared, team members might be surprised and give responses like, “I thought we did that differently”. This is a great moment to start an open discussion and come up with a mutual decision on how to continue going forward.

Finally, it’s much easier to communicate about team and work changes when they’re written down. For example, at The Remote Company, we had two different budgets for professional and personal growth. Then we decided that personal and professional growth are connected and that they should be joined as one thing called the “Growth budget”. To communicate this change, we updated our handbook and notified people in our general Slack channel.


Peek inside The Remote Company’s handbook 👀

Though there are many employee handbooks out there, the one that inspired us is GitLab’s 3,000-word handbook. Everyone can read this public handbook and even suggest amendments. Some people call it the encyclopedia of remote work!

Inspired by this handbook, we started working on our own version. 

Today we’re opening the doors to our business, as we share the parts of our handbook that covers our values, benefits, communication, and social responsibility. This is the content that new team members get acquainted with during their first week at The Remote Company. 

If you’re interested in joining our team or just want to know how we do things around here, have a look at our handbook here.

You’re welcome to browse around and use it as an inspiration for your own handbook!


Wrapping up

An employee handbook is a great tool to have in a remote work environment. It takes out the guesswork, eliminates assumptions, and gives your employees clear answers and guidelines. It’s also much easier to communicate when everyone is on the same page!

Does your company have an employee handbook (yet)?

Ilma

I’m Ilma, COO at The Remote Company. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win.

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