Write the Docs: Employee Handbooks

Does your employee handbook do what you want it to do?

It’s no secret that company culture is a huge factor in both attracting and retaining stellar employees. The secret is actually more about communicating your company culture — and that’s not as easy as it may sound. Each institution (yes, even start-ups are institutions) has its own ideas, methodologies, processes, and ideologies, and of course, idiosyncrasies.

This stuff grows from the people who start the company, and the tone they set and nurture as they add more people to the company is what sets the culture for years to come. Everything from the brand to the way people sit together is part of the company’s culture. So if all this stuff feels so normal and obvious to people inside the company, how can it be that these concepts are so hard to communicate?


In 2012, Facebook developed a “little red book” that in essence codified what the company thought about itself, growth, and its culture. The company worked with Ben Barry to design, build, and print these little books. Presumably, these books were shared with employees. Here’s how Facebook framed the challenge:

“As the company of Facebook grew, we faced a lot of challenges. One of them was explaining our company’s mission, history, and culture to new employees. Over the years, a lot of formative company discussions and debates had happened in Facebook Groups, over email, or in person. Those who had been present at the time had context, but for new employees that information was difficult to find, even if you knew what you were looking for. We wanted to try to package a lot of those stories and ideas in one place to give to all employees.”

This challenge is the one that the companies Edify works with face all the time: they’re relatively young companies experiencing rapid growth and change. They aren’t the founding ten or even the middle thirty they were two or even five years ago, and managing growth while maintaining culture has become a complex tangle of yarn. Atlassian uses an employee handbook, among other methods, to share its culture with new hires. Facebook has tried to untangle this knot by focusing — at least with this book — on communicating how the intricacies of the company work to employees. Often, it’s not just new employees that need to hear these things — it’s employees of all levels and stripes.

More often than not, I see companies over do their policies. I have worked with companies that pull up the Confluence page or handbook PDF and read it out to new hires — perhaps not the most user-friendly way to share that information with new hires.

What could your handbook look like if you pared it down to the essentials? How we treat one another, how we work, how software gets made here?

While the entire contents of the book can only be seen if you work at Facebook, the shot shared here give a good overview and indication of just how much thought went into this document.

Writing documentation is a key (if not oft ignored) piece of the technology sector. It’s time we started talking about the best delivery mechanisms for sharing culture, policies, and the way we work with our new hires.

Why shouldn’t writing the docs for the human resources side of tech be just as important?

Get expert partnership on your employee development challenges with Edify — reach out to us at edifyedu.com!