Writing content for your company handbook or internal knowledge base

Catherine Heath | March 6, 2020

Illustration of two owls surrounded by hearts

There are generally two distinct types of knowledge base: an internal, employee-facing knowledge base, and an external, customer-facing knowledge base. 

One further subtype of an internal knowledge base can be your team handbook. This is the manual that you present to all employees, and it contains the essentials of working for your company. 

We’ve come up with the following list of the types of information you might want to include in your handbook.

Onboarding

It’s useful to include an onboarding guide for new employees, containing a condensed version of all the essential information they might need to know. 

You can tell people how long they need to spend on training and onboarding, include any forms they need to complete, BYOD policy, how to obtain their network credentials, and security information. 

You can tailor your onboarding information for different teams and roles. 

Company culture

You can give your new employees an overview of the culture in your company. Gitlab has a very good example of a handbook for their company values. 

For example, you can explain how to work collaboratively, how to offer constructive feedback, dealing with negative feedback, being results-oriented, how to measure success, making the customer central to everything you do, and so on. 

You can also have policies on knowledge-sharing, where people can look to find the right information, and how to avoid playing politics.

Interviewing policy

You could inform people on how they can apply for an open company position as an internal applicant, the process you need to go through with your existing manager, and the company policy on staff who recommend candidates (ie do you offer compensation?).

Provide information for hiring managers on how to conduct interviews, how to handle rejection and give feedback to candidates, creating a good candidate experience, and conducting remote interviews. You might also advise on how to conduct background checks, or how to issue an offer to a successful candidate. 

Hiring policy

Share the standards that you use to evaluate candidates, your stance on topics such as “culture fit”, and what the qualities are that you look for in a new hire. 

Tell your employees how to advertise a new vacancy, how to construct a successful job advert, country hiring guidelines, hiring best practices, and how to use video to advertise a job vacancy. 

It’s important to make how you construct job titles explicit, and the position of each job in your company’s structure. 

Communication guidelines

It’s inevitable that your staff will need to communicate both within and about your company. You can define what is acceptable to share internally or externally, and how individuals can represent the company when they are attending events and conferences, etc. 

If you are a software-based company, you may find it useful to outline your policies on merge requests, participation in scrum teams, code reviews, peer programming, and so on. 

You can issue guidelines on social media, in blog posts, how it is appropriate to talk about the company and whether it’s acceptable for employees to divulge company information. If you feel the need, you can offer guidelines on email use, minimizing the use of “reply all’, or suggest how to share documents with coworkers. 

Diversity & inclusion

Most companies have a diversity & inclusion policy to ensure there is no discrimination in the workplace. 

For example, you can outline your guidelines on how to foster an inclusive environment, how to promote a culture of equal opportunity, and working on a model of asynchronous communication (taking account of different time zones, recording meetings, using Slack public messages). 

This is also where documentation can come in really handy, in order to make sure everyone has access to the right information. 

You can also make clear your policy on how you will accommodate people with family commitments, caring responsibilities, people coping with long-term illness, and how you handle hot-button topics like religion and politics in the workplace. 

Transparency

It’s important to have a transparency policy for your company, and explain how you might communicate about certain topics, such as major service outages, data breaches, or anything else of a sensitive nature. 

Some companies may also want to be publicly open about the salaries they pay their staff and their revenues. 

Leave policy

All employees need to know your official vacation policy, parental leave policy, and sick leave policy. It’s also important to promote time off work to help people achieve good work/life balance.

Remote teams can be different to some companies in that they do not require their employees to ask permission for team off. You need to make your process explicit to avoid confusion, and ensure you always have people to cover the necessary work. 

Explain how to communicate your paid time off with the rest of your team and what to do if an emergency occurs. 

Remote work policy

Many companies nowadays have a strong remote work culture, or maybe are even fully remote. It’s important to set out guidelines for employees so they can participate most effectively. 

What communication tools do you use? When are your team check-ins? What is your policy on Bring Your Own Device and how can people make them secure?

Compensation policies

Every company is different when it comes to offering compensation to its employees. 

Explain how you calculate compensation and whether you make this information public. You might pay different rates based on type of job, type of contract, or location. Let people know whether you offer stock options and how to get them. 

Project planning

It’s important to inform your staff about how they can go about launching a new project, where they need to get permission, and what tools they can use. How do you measure the success of a project?

You might offer a library of past projects so people can see whether certain ideas have been implemented before. This is an important part of Knowledge Management.

Style guide

Every company needs a style guide for its written, spoken, and visual communication. You might share information on how to use headings, brand names, product names, or logos. 

You may have different style guides for different departments or projects, such as the marketing style guide and the technical writing style guide.

Code of Conduct

A code of conduct is the guideline to proper behavior in your company. Every company’s code of conduct will be unique but there are likely to be some common themes, such as acting honestly and respectfully, working as a team, refraining from harassment, and so on.

Outline what the consequences will be if anyone violates the code of conduct, or who they can contact if they want to make a report. 

Learning and development

Your company may have particular opportunities for learning and development, such as training programs, courses, mentorship programs, or attending conferences. Be explicit about what these are so every employee can take advantage of them.

Explain the process that employees need to go through when applying for opportunities. You may have fair usage policies in place. 

Leadership

You can explain how typical leaders in your company should conduct themselves, and how to deal with reports as a manager. Give advice on how to offer feedback, and also how to deal with negative feedback from your direct reports. 

What are the pathways to leadership in your company? Help your team understand how to better themselves and take on more responsibility in their job.

Offboarding

Sadly, there comes a time when people have to leave your company. Hopefully it can be a mutual decision.

Explain to people the process for offboarding, and any forms they will need to complete. What is your standard notice period? Explain what to do in the case of involuntary offboarding.

You might need to revoke access to the company’s tools such as Slack or GitHub repositories. You might also want to interview everyone just before they leave and collect feedback, or ask them to complete a survey.

Expenses policy

These are guidelines and rules for spending company money, especially when travelling on behalf of the business. What qualifies as a business expense, and how do people submit receipts? Do you have preferred providers for expenses such as hotels and flights, with business deals in place? Are there company cards available?

Benefits

Everyone loves benefits! What are the rewards people get for working for your company? 

Benefits can include company retreats, on-site catering, travel coupons, coworking spaces, learning and development, parental leave, or health insurance. 

Company departments 

Your company departments could be engineering, marketing, UX, sales, finance, support, or product. 

You can include information about the members of each department, their job titles and roles, and how to contact each person. It might be helpful to provide a broad overview of what each team does, and their responsibilities.

Building your knowledge base

A knowledge base can be a really powerful tool for building your company handbook, because it is a centrally organized resource (unlike a wiki). It’s online, so your employees can access it anywhere, and you can restrict access behind a login page.

You can have just a select few content writers and editors who produce your knowledge base’s information, curate it, and keep it up-to-date. When you need to add new users to your knowledge base you can upgrade your subscription to one that offers more accounts. You can still have an unlimited number of read-only users who can view your information.

Your knowledge base can be customized to reflect the style and branding of your company. It’s a seamless part of your company’s internal resources. 

Ready to develop your own company handbook? Take our knowledge base software KnowledgeOwl for a free spin. 


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Catherine is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She writes blogs, social media, copy, and designs owl-based images. She believes in ditching the jargon – just give her plain writing.

You can find out more about Catherine on her personal websites Away With Words and Catherine Heath Studios.


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