Why Every Distributed Company Needs the Perfect Handbook

By: Laurel Farrer

Gone are the days when onboarding consisted of cheesy orientation videos and welcome signs. In order to maintain the consistency of information given to new hires, it is crucial for all distributed companies to provide a sleek handbook full of answers and directions to set any incoming employee at ease and smooth their transition onto your team.

Unfortunately, when you start thinking about all of the information that you need to relay (from slack channels to customer service workflows), it can feel pretty daunting to create such a meticulous document and not forget any important sections. No sweat - we’ve got your back.

These eight chapters cover all the topics you need to address in your distributed company handbook:

1. Mission, Vision, and/or Values - Zoom waaaaaay out and start by showing newbies the big picture. Provide some insight about why your organization exists, prove what void you are trying to fill, and explain what makes your company (and it’s workforce) unique.

2. Product Introduction - It’s amazing how many employees complete their work every day without understanding why or how their tasks contribute to their overall product. And, feeling like a robot is certainly not going to strengthen loyalty or unity on your team. Introduce all employees to the history of the company and how each product is created. You may even want to include information about sales and marketing, so all team members are proud to represent your brand under any circumstance. Also, tell them where they can submit suggestions for improvement or new product ideas.

3. Company Directory - Introduce incoming staff to fellow team members, by providing the name, role/title, time zone, and contact information for each employee. In the name of transparency and unity, some organizations even include salary information about each employee and/or fun facts. A visual flowchart of who reports to whom is always very useful!

4. The Onboarding Process - What can the new hire expect to experience over the next few days, weeks, and months? What tools and resources will you be providing to make their transition onto the team an easy one? Clarify how the new team member will move through the onboarding process into day one on the job.

5. How to Work Remotely - Working outside of a brick-and-mortar office can be a HUGE adjustment for any employee, and it is sure to impact their lifestyle and work habits. Whether or not this new hire has worked remotely before, make sure to provide tips, strategies, and equipment checklists to help them get started.

6. Operations and Communication - So many questions to answer here! What project management software should they use? When should they send an email instead of using Slack? Do they have team meet ups or retreats? Who calls whom for one-on-one calls? Which weekly conference calls are they expected to attend? Be sure to include clear, comprehensive information on all team tools, habits, terminology, and rituals. Ensure the newbie doesn’t miss out on anything.

7. Human Resources - Here’s another whopper section. Include topics, like how to submit an expense report, take paternity leave, travel to a conference, enforce team policies, or set up a 401k. Your employee will need to know all of the legal and procedural information that supports them as a valuable asset in your organization.  

8. Security - In a distributed company, every employee is equally responsible for information security. Be sure everyone is fully educated about how to keep data secure, maintain the privacy of customer information, and set up a protected wifi network.

That’s it! If you record all your thoughts and processes related to those eight topics, your incoming employees should be able to integrate into your company with ease.

That’s still a lot of information for a new hire to absorb on day one. So, in addition to writing a great handbook, we also suggest sending a small email to preface the handbook and articulate clear action items. Include any high-priority information that is relevant to the role.

Here is a list of suggestions to get you started:

  1. Onboarding to do list

  2. List of accounts and passwords

  3. Contact information for a buddy or HR rep to ask questions

  4. Link to the handbook

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that writing a company handbook is a huge task. We encourage using a writing committee to distribute the load and provide multiple perspectives, so nothing gets overlooked. At the end, you’ll see a great return on your investment of time with more engaged and loyal new hires.

Want to see a few excellent examples of real, active handbooks for distributed companies? Check out Human Made, Hanno and Basecamp. Have others to share? Tweet us @yonder_io to discuss what goes into a great company handbook!

Laurel Farrer is the COO here at Yonder. She always has a notebook and pen within arm's reach, never sits with both feet on the floor, and drives (safely) without depth perception.