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How to utilize personal user manuals for effective internal communication

Anisha Kaul

Communication is difficult for any team, but it can be a massive challenge for remote teams made up of individuals who work in different ways and from various locations, sometimes spread out across the globe. Effective communication is about more than getting your ideas across. Communication affects workplace morale and happiness, employee retention, decision making, and productivity. Personal user manuals create clarity around workplace communication, and they help team members make intentional decisions about when and how to communicate with each other.

We’re big fans of personal user manuals at Charma. We use them to communicate more effectively and to better understand one another. In this post, we’ll dig into personal user manuals, including the benefits, how they are used, how we utilize them at Charma, and strategies for implementing personal user manuals within your team or workplace.

What is a personal user manual? 

Personal user manuals are used in workplaces to help individuals share their own personal preferences, such as how they prefer to be contacted or when they are available. A personal user manual is often a one-page document (or longer) where each team member can share more about themselves.

The document acts as an instruction manual that helps team members navigate communication between one another. When properly implemented, these manuals prevent communication breakdowns, miscommunication, and conflict.

Personal user manuals can benefit any type of team, but they are an incredibly powerful tool for distributed teams. Teams that work from different locations and time zones need to utilize transparent and intentional communication since team members are all working at different times and in different ways. 

Prioritizing asynchronous communication can help, but team members still need to understand each other's preferences and manage boundaries to ensure work-life balance is maintained. The personal user manual provides critical details about each team member's preferences to cultivate smooth and efficient communication across the board.

What are the benefits of personal user manuals?

Personal user manuals take time and dedication to become an effective tool. It’s not enough to simply ask your team to create personal user manuals. You need to dedicate time and resources to creating and continually utilizing these documents.

Based on our experience, we’d argue it’s well worth your efforts. Personal user manuals provide a number of benefits, particularly for remote or distributed teams.

Personal user manual benefits:

  • Eliminates communication surprises
  • Reduces time zone confusion
  • Establishes boundaries between work and home life 
  • Acknowledges the importance of work-life balance
  • Encourages team members to get to know each other
  • Helps people empathize with other team members
  • Boosts productivity and efficiency
  • Aids focus and the ability to achieve deep work
  • Acts as a team building exercise

How Charma uses personal user manuals

Here at Charma personal user manuals are an important part of our employee onboarding flow. To encourage collaboration and soften the awkwardness of meeting new people, we all take the time to write a little about ourselves so that our team members know how to relate to us. Everyone has the opportunity to develop their own template for this manual which is another way new team members can display their personalities. 

Personal user manuals typically answer questions such as:

Having clear answers to make this document especially useful when building cross functional teams. Team members can easily cross reference the personal user manuals of people they don’t typically work with to ensure that everyone's preferences are being taken into account. Not only does this practice make team collaboration smoother, it also helps everyone feel heard and appreciated.

How to develop your own personal user manuals

Share initial guiding questions

When asking your team to create personal user manuals, begin with some guiding questions. It’s important that team members have the ability to craft the manual in their own way, but guidelines will help establish some consistency between the manuals. 

Initial questions could include:

  • Which time zone are you located in?
  • What are your ideal working hours?
  • What’s your ideal work environment? 
  • What’s the best way to contact you?
  • What’s your personality/communication type? (Ex. DiSC, Enneagrams, Myers Briggs, etc.)
  • What does your daily routine look like?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?

Organize information

Consider how you want your personal user manuals organized. We recommend beginning with general information and working your way to more specific information. What’s the most important element of the personal user manual? It will vary for each team, but something about how and when each team member prefers to communicate is important to include succinctly at the very beginning.

Ask your team to think about what’s most important as they create their manual. If someone else only reads one or two points from your manual, what would you want them to know? This information should be clearly outlined at the beginning of the manual. As you continue deeper into the manual, you can add more details that are less critical.

For example, you might highlight that you work best in the morning, prefer to communicate on Slack, and like to schedule meetings in the afternoon to allow for deep work in the morning. Further into your manual, you can elaborate on these points and include more details about your communication preferences, personality type, and strengths and weaknesses.

If you begin with a template, remember to make it your own

Personal user manual templates can save you time and be a super helpful place to start, but don’t forget to make them your own. You don’t need to stick to the exact template you start with.

If your team doesn’t need to include time zone information, omit that section. If you want a section about what Enneagram type each team member is because you completed those as a team, add that in. It’s important that this document is designed specifically for your team. Don’t forget to ask your team for feedback on what they would like to see included. What information would provide them the most value? What would they like to share? What would they like to know about their team members?

Create a safe space for sharing

Sharing personal information can be tough for some people. Make sure the entire team knows that this is a safe exercise. There are no right or wrong answers, and they shouldn't be concerned about disclosing any information about how they work.

Everyone is different—and that's perfectly okay. No one should be worried about saying they aren’t a morning person. The things people share in their personal user manual shouldn’t be used against them in any way, and everyone participating should know that.

Do all that you can to make this a safe and comfortable exercise. This should come naturally if you’ve already invested in collaboration, team building, and team trust.

📚Building trust in the workplace: 5 simple steps for improving virtual team trust

Turn it into a team building exercise

Establishing a personal user manual can be turned into a team building activity. Team building provides a long list of benefits, including enhanced team trust, boosted morale, and improved overall productivity. 

Involve the whole team in the process and create dedicated time for filling out the manuals. Instead of making the personal user manuals assigned work, utilize them as a chance for your team to work on something fun together. You can help guide the team in understanding their personality and communication preferences. Take this time to gather feedback on what the manuals should include to make them as effective as possible.

💡 Looking for more team building ideas? We covered the best virtual team building activities to engage your team.

Include user manuals in your onboarding process

Don’t forget about new hires. Personal user manuals aren’t a set it and forget it activity. You should periodically check in with your team to ensure they are utilizing their personal user manuals and that they are up to date. Ask for feedback to ensure they are working, and implement any ideas or concerns you receive.

Remember to block time in the onboarding process to help new employees create their own personal user manual. Keep in mind that new hires weren't part of the initial process, so you may need to do a bit more explaining about how to fill them out and how to best utilize the manuals.

Manage team communication with Charma

Charma is the best practice toolkit for managers to organize, motivate, and engage their teams, beloved by managers, HR, executives, and ICs alike.

We’re passionate about helping teams build strong, confident, and reliable workplace relationships, no matter your location. We built Charma with distributed and remote teams in mind. With Charma, you can manage team communication with transparent schedules, clear goals, action items, and continuous feedback.

Follow our blog for more content dedicated to improving workplace relationships. If you have any questions about our content or how to utilize Charma, reach out to our team at any time.

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