Guide to Writing Your Personal User Manual in the Modern Workplace

Explore the growing trend of user manuals and how they streamline communication and collaboration in today's modern workplace.

Published: Aug 30, 2023

Imagine having a detailed guide to each individual you interact with at your job—a manual that provides insights into who they are and their daily habits, communication preferences, and working styles. Instead of the usual trial-and-error approach that takes months, if not years, to get results, the dos-and-don'ts of working with them are already neatly outlined for you. How much more efficient—and painless would your day be?

A growing trend amongst people managers is the creation of user manuals to help reports and peers alike better understand how to collaborate and communicate with them. Across various industries, locations, and levels, managers are finding that these documents reduce interpersonal friction and misunderstandings and empower teammates to work more effectively.

What is a user manual?

Just as new gadgets you purchase include guides explaining how to use them properly, personal user manuals help people, particularly managers, share insights into their personality, strengths, weaknesses, and communication and collaboration styles in the workplace. Think of it as a guidebook to navigate the nuances of human interaction, helping you engage with colleagues on a deeper level.

Its basic components are information about your working hours/schedule, how you like to communicate and collaborate, including how you give and receive feedback, and any personal details you want to share to help others get to know you better. When complete, it should serve as a detailed roadmap for working most effectively with you.

Why should you write a user manual?

The goal of a user manual is to reduce the friction by setting crystal-clear expectations for working collaboratively. In an increasingly remote world, without the benefit of regular face-to-face interaction, simple misunderstandings can fester and create a breakdown of more than just communication. The user manual, then, seeks to establish a foundation of trust and clarity that acts as a bolster to daily interactions as well as a fallback if conflict arises.

For new hires, user manuals simplify the onboarding process, allowing for smoother integration into team dynamics and faster ramp-up times. Early-days interactions are clear end streamlined, reducing misinterpretations and resulting tension. But manuals can provide a surefire boost to communication and collaboration at any stage in an employee's tenure, not just onboarding. Continued reliance on them fosters a culture of respect for individual boundaries and preferences. As more and more employees author their own, differences are not just acknowledged but celebrated.

Finally, the process of creating a manual encourages deeper introspection about who you are and how you work, a useful exercise in and of itself even for non-managers. It can reveal patterns in behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement, leading to both personal and professional growth. As you articulate your communication style and preferences, you'll become more attuned to your place within the larger team dynamic, showing you where you could make some adjustments for the good of the group. It's an investment in yourself and in your team.

How to write a user manual

Do your research. Take time to that ensure you understand your own inherent traits, communication style, and preferences. If you could use some help getting started, try a personality test like Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths. Use that or your own insights to reflect on how you work best, your strengths, and areas where you might need support. Don't forget to seek input from friends, family, and coworkers, too, since they can provide valuable perceptions that may not be obvious to you. Transparency is key here, but so is ownership. As GitLab founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij notes as he lists some personal shortcomings in his manual, "I'm fully responsible for improving the things below, listing them is no excuse."

Cover the basics. At a minimum, your user manual should include information on how you like to communicate, collaborate, and give and receive feedback. What are your working hours? How do you structure your day? Do you prefer direct or indirect, written or verbal, formal or casual communication? What tools do you use and for what? If you're a manager, this should also include specific details about meeting cadence and performance reviews. It can also be helpful to include details of exactly what your role is to eliminate any confusion.

Get personal and be personable. While tactical details of working and communicating with you are necessary for a user manual, merely writing them down is not a goal in itself. Rather, as you're writing, keep in mind that the end goal is simply to communicate and collaborate more effectively with colleagues. Demonstrating openness and authenticity by sharing more personal details about your expectations and habits can fast-track effective collaboration in a way that a purely tactical approach can't. Don't be afraid to be specific about your preferences, as Tim Glaser, CTO and cofounder of Posthog, is when he instructs colleagues to "Please don't message me 'hey' and then spend 3 minutes typing your question." When you show up as your real self, quirks and all, it not only helps your colleagues relate to you more deeply, but also creates an environment where vulnerability and authenticity is reciprocated.

Stay flexible. Remember that all human beings are complex and dynamic. Your user manual should serve as a guide, not a rigid rulebook, and should be a living document. Before you share it more widely, have a few trusted friends or colleagues look it over and give their thoughts and impressions. They'll likely have some insights that won't have occurred to you, as will others who use the manual down the line. As time goes on, be open to evolving and adapting your manual as you grow as a colleague and a leader.

User manual examples

Not quite prepared to begin a user manual of your own? Draw inspiration from our collection of user manual templates from people managers at top companies.

Check out Molly White's, whose manual from her time as a tech lead at HubSpot focuses on sharing feedback and communicating clearly, or GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij's, who includes personal details such as his favorite restaurants and bars in addition to more tactical details about working with him. Chris Blanchut from Unconventional Route takes a more humorous approach in his user manual, writing as if he were describing how to operate a piece of machinery.

If you find anything you want to repurpose for yourself, or you just want to copy a certain manual's structure, click the Use template button to add it to your Slab account, and you can keep drafting there!

Slab Library

Discover templates and examples from leaders in the industry

Enjoying the post? Get notified when we publish a new article.
Get notified when we publish a new article