If you didn’t know already, Added Bytes has a company handbook and it’s publicly available to read. And while there are some companies that have public handbooks, it’s not yet a common practice. I wanted to explain a bit about what our handbook is for, and why we made it public.
“What’s a handbook?”, you might ask. A handbook is a document, or collection of documents, which cover company policies, expectations and processes. That will typically include things like the company holiday policy, disciplinary procedures, dress code, office rules, and so on.
They are usually quite dry and quite long. Worse, though, as an employee you only usually get to see them after you start working for a company. And that isn’t great – the job ad you responded to might include lots of lovely-sounding policies and ideas, but the handbook might include a whole lot of rules that make those worth less than you thought.
I had exactly that experience in a previous role myself. The original job advert made it sound like employee education and career development were important to the company. I’m going to paraphrase to spare their blushes, but “We give employees the opportunity to go on courses and spend work time learning and deploying new skills.” is a fair representation of their sales pitch.
A few months in, I had an opportunity to go on a local two-day Python course. Although most of my work was PHP, Python was something we were being asked about as a company and we had nobody with the relevant skills to take on those jobs. I asked about it … and was presented with a screenshot from the company handbook, which made it very clear that going on a course was not something that could be done on company time and that under no circumstances would the company help with the costs.
It felt like a bait-and-switch and left a sour taste. I didn’t ask about courses again and, in the four years I spent there, I can count on one hand the number of courses my various colleagues attended – always on their own time and funded out of their own pocket.
If I’d had the company handbook in advance, I’d have been that much better informed about the job I was applying for. That’s good for the prospective employee and for the company doing the hiring. It manages expectations and sets the tone for the working relationship before the company and employee have even spoken.
In early 2020, I was pointed towards the wonderful GitLab handbook. It’s monstrous, complex, deep, inspiring, thoughtful, and comprehensive. If you were considering working for GitLab, you could read that thing and know exactly what working there would entail. Contributing to the handbook is ingrained in the company.
Seeing GitLab laid bare like that was like a bucket of ice water, a serious jolt to the system. Of course our handbook should be public. Of course candidates should be able to dive into the details of what working with us is like before applying. Of course we should contribute to it as a standard working practice. Of course it should be always a draft, never completed, because the company is always going to be growing and evolving.
GitLab is a little larger than Added Bytes and 10,000 pages of content is quite a way ahead of where we are today. But our handbook comes from a similar place. While our handbook is smaller, the result is similar – if you were considering working for Added Bytes, that collection of documents should help you understand what that’s like, from our flexible holidays to our social media policy.