“How to Work with Me” Manual (and why your company needs one)

by Ilma

Learn how to empower your employees to develop their own internal work manuals. These cheatsheets enable them to share their unique communication and work styles with their colleagues for improved collaboration and productivity.

Each one of us is wired differently. Yet, many of us assume that others understand our operating style, leading to frustration when our expectations are not met.

For example:

  • We assume other people should think in a similar way to us  

  • We expect people to understand our needs without verbalizing them

  • We want people to remember what’s important to us, even if we only mentioned it once years ago

  • We become very creative when someone is behaving differently than we would expect

  • We make decisions based only on our assumptions

Sounds familiar? No wonder it’s so easy to get off on the wrong foot or experience unnecessary miscommunication—especially with colleagues.

For this reason, we introduced the concept of individual “How to Work with Me” manuals. It’s our internal cheat sheet for knowing how other teammates prefer to work and communicate with colleagues.

Stop wasting time assuming or being misunderstood

Imagine you wrote an important message to your manager on Slack four hours ago. Currently, you’re still waiting for a reply. What goes through your mind?

  • Is my manager too busy to reply?

  • Let me check the Slack status

  • Hmm. Online. Maybe my idea was stupid?

  • Am I being ignored?

  • What if my work isn't good enough? 

The list could go on, on, and on. The longer you wait, the more your insecurities get the best of you. We’ve all been there!

Avoid going down a rabbit hole by establishing clear expectations, not assumptions. Especially when your team communicates remotely from all over the world and there are cultural differences and time zones to take into account as well. 

I found the solution to the above-mentioned problem of insecurities in a book titled High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups From 10 to 10,000 People”. 

The book describes how Claire Hughes Johnson created an open document and shared it with everyone who was closely working with her when she joined Stripe. Her essay counted just over 2,000 words and was titled “How to work with me”. 

A genius way to set clear expectations, right? 

That’s why we added  “How to Work with Me” manuals to our profiles in Notion, where everyone can find and read them. Anyone can write one—whether they’re new to the team, changing teams, or just want their team to know them better. 

Writing your personal “How to work with me” manual

While we don’t want to limit people with strict writing guidelines, it’s important that your manual answers some common questions, including:

  • ‘How are you?’ is a greeting for you or a question you want to hear an answer to.

  • Do you prefer to start conversations with small talk or go straight to the point?

  • How do you feel about emojis and gifs in the messages?

  • What channels do you prefer for communication? Chat, email or call?

  • How do you want to get feedback?

  • What is your thinking process? How do you make decisions?

  • What are your requirements for great work?

  • What do you expect from other team members? How do you want them to help you?

  • What frustrates you?

  • What are things you might miss and how should your team members remind you? What are your blind spots?

  • What are things you’re great at, things you love doing? How do you want to add value to the team?

Are you a manager? Here are some questions for you:

  • What tasks do I want to be involved in?

  • When do I want to hear from my team members?

  • How do you want your team members to make decisions: together or on their own?

  • What is the approval process and when is it needed?

Then, take some time to think about who you are and how you think. Spend time contemplating the following three areas to get started with the writing process.

1. Know thyself

Before you start writing, take a moment and consider how you work (it’s surprising how few of us have done this)!

Take a minute to explore how you function in a team. Notice the things that motivate or irritate you, with specific questions like:

  • Do I prefer Slack messages to emails? 

  • Do I want people to reply instantly or should they think about it first? 

  • How often do I want to have online meetings? 

  • Why do I need things to be like this? How does it help me?

You can be very specific. For example, COO Ilma (that’s me!) wrote:

“If I forward an email, I’d like to be included in the cc to see further communication.”

Our Software Engineer, Magdalena, uses her manual to remind people that she loves using emojis:

“I use emojis because we can’t always express our emotions on chat otherwise”.

She also specifies her preferred ways of communicating for different purposes.

“My preferred way of communication is DM on Slack 💯. I generally am not a huge fan of calls unless it's something that can't be discussed by message.

When it comes to the following things, I prefer a Zoom call: sprint calls, pair programming on a more complex issue, 1-on-1 with a manager, and longer talks like reflecting on an interview or a meeting”

Our product owner, Monika, and fellow software engineer, Ashraf, prefer to skip the small talk and get right to the problem.

"Just ping me whenever you need something. No need to ask how I’m doing before your actual question, but I do appreciate a good joke or a funny GIF”

Ignas, our CEO, on the other hand, mentions his preference for calls in his manual:

“I don’t like to read or write long texts. I prefer to jump into a video call and solve all issues on the fly.”

And when it comes to feedback, this is how Ashraf likes to receive it:

“I appreciate feedback related to me or my work whether it's positive or negative. That's the way I can improve and work better and be a better team member. I am always open to suggestions and feedback."

See how in just a few minutes, we’ve already gathered so much valuable information about what makes people tick. People are different, and it’s great to know their communication style to get things done efficiently.

If they’d never written these things down, we wouldn’t have known that it mattered to them. This makes all the difference in your team!

2. Explain your perspective

We’re not all on the same wavelength—and that’s a good thing! Each one of us brings different strengths to the table. But it also means that we need to be crystal clear when we’re explaining our point of view. 

For example, my big-picture vision for our business can make others feel stressed out or uncomfortable. That’s totally ok. It just means that we see the world differently. So for my manual, it makes sense to explain how I think and view my job:

“My job is to connect the dots inside and outside of The Remote Company. If you have any idea what could be improved, what is missing or what is wrong at Remote Company, please share it with me.

I thrive when I talk about the vision and see the bigger picture. I am curious to hear why and how your current tasks are connected with the wider view. I am always willing to invest in long-term solutions and ideas.

I’m systematic when I work alone, but I might get too abstract when talking/writing about different projects. Please ask for specific details, my plans on how to get there and reasons why we should do something. I probably have a document or a plan for my idea.”

And our CEO Ignas explains in his manual how to best convince him of an idea:

“I like to see things visually. If you want to convince me about something, show visual examples from competitors or other successful companies. I value arguments that are based on research and market review (and presented visually).”

3. Be aware of your differences

In our team, we share some common concepts. For example, we all prefer asynchronous communication and are passionate about our jobs. We are all happy to wear t-shirts and sweaters that say #lovemyjob!

But like all large groups, we have many differences as well. It is equally important to be aware of this so that we can avoid misunderstandings. It might be the tiniest details that matter to people the most. 

For example, our Product Owner, Martyna writes:

“I respond well to structure and perform best with clear, specific tasks and goals. I'm direct and appreciate it when you are direct with me as well - I don't like wasting time (mine or yours).

I also appreciate non-work related chats, whether it's something funny, or you're feeling down.”

Nicole, our Content Manager, is on a similar page with structure, goals, and non-work chat. She also explains how she organizes her work day and what sort of feedback is most constructive for her:

"I work well with structure and measured goals. I want to know what 'success' looks like for you and for our team. I like checking in on projects I'm a part of to make sure tasks are getting delivered on time. If you prefer to only be notified when the final outcome is ready, let me know.

I'd like to know about tasks or edits as soon as possible so I can plan my work day in advance. Don't hesitate to book a meeting with me 2-3 days before. If you need to speak to me urgently, do ping me on Slack and we can sort out a time that works sooner (maybe via Slack huddle even!).

I enjoy collaborating but also value my focus time to execute tasks on time. I value quick and informal feedback. I also enjoy getting to know my colleagues and am a huge fan of GIFs. Send them my way!"

Finished writing? Share the document with your team

Of course, after all this thinking and writing about yourself, it’s good to share the finished manuals with your team. You can even host a meeting where everyone reads theirs out loud. 

It’s great to see how people react to this newly learned information.

After people read my manual, they confessed that they loosened up. Previously, they felt bad about getting my Slack messages at random hours and tried their best to respond as fast as possible.

But now that they know this is my way of working. More importantly, they’ve learned that that’s not what I expect. Here’s the real reason I write my messages at random times:

“I prefer asynchronous communication via Slack. If you got my message, you don’t have to reply instantly. Sometimes you may get my Slack message on the weekends or in the late evening. I shared it with you because I just came up with an idea and don’t want to forget it.

I don’t expect a reply on the weekend, on your vacation and when you are away. Reply when you start your workday.”

This communication method works for me because I can share what’s on my mind, without disturbing my colleagues’ downtime. Everyone is happy!

Key takeaways as you start preparing

Are you ready to write your own "How to Work with Me" manual? Excellent! 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • With communication, it’s best not to assume but to set clear expectations.

  • Writing individual work manuals can be a valuable exercise for your team, as it can enhance their understanding of their work and facilitate better communication.

  • People feel more secure when they know what to expect. 

  • Working in a diverse and multicultural team is a huge advantage, but you need to work even harder to understand your differences and avoid misunderstandings to make the most out of them. 

  • Read your team's "How to Work with Me" and listen.

  • Just do it :)

Happy writing (and working) !