At Countfire one of our core values that came about fairly naturally was ensuring that we work efficiently. This all sounds great in practice, but values need to be lived rather than just written down in a company handbook and forgotten.
One of the ways we bring our values to life is through our company wiki. From how we structure the wiki, to what goes in, is all part of the process in working efficiently. Having one core place to store information (particularly as a fully remote company), helps keep us all on the same page – quite literally.
But let’s backtrack for a moment to look at what a wiki is, and if you even need one.
What is a company wiki?
A company wiki is a collection of documents, often called articles, that cover various topics. A company wiki is mostly stored online and often has multiple authors and contributors. Unlike a set of company processes, which are usually written once and then rarely updated, a company wiki is a working set of articles. Similarly, anyone can contribute rather than the articles being owned solely by HR. Wikis may also be referred to as “knowledge bases” for some companies.
One of the first lessons we learned about implementing a company wiki is to not let it get stale. If a wiki becomes a place to dump information, never to return, you’ve already failed in your mission. In the early days of Countfire we made this mistake. We had a traditional type of wiki (think Wikipedia style) and it was really uninspiring to use. So of course, no one used it. To stay in use a wiki needs to be a living, breathing part of the company which changes and adapts over time.
When we decided to start over we turned to modern cloud-based wiki tools. There are plenty available; from Confluence and Guru to longer standing tools such as Microsoft Sharepoint and Evernote. The tool we chose was Notion. Mainly because it’s actually enjoyable to use and for that reason we knew it would be easier to keep it as an evolving system and not a company wasteland.
Today, it really does feel as though Notion is our home for not only processes and culture stuff but also to work through projects and keep track of what’s happening inside our business groups.
Whichever system you go for, here are a few of our top tips on structuring your company wiki and what you might include.
How we structure our company wiki
1. Core business areas
Regardless of organisation there are likely a few areas that remain the same. These are the areas you might have previously covered in traditional process documents. Some of the core areas our wiki covers include:
- About us – who the organisation is and what we do
- Mission and vision statements
- Values and culture
- How we work guidelines – broken down into subsections for items such as holiday and sickness policies
A couple of sub points to consider:
While reinventing your company wiki you also have the opportunity to subvert any “this is the way we’ve always done it” formats. For us, this meant swapping arduous processes containing pages of information for short bullet points, making use of emojis where appropriate.
As an example, our Christmas policy is three bullet points and fifty-ish words. If you don’t need to say lots, don’t be afraid to keep it brief.
Create a HQ area
One of the aspects of a wiki that makes it not very user-friendly is that as soon as you open the page, you’re filled with a hundred different options. Where do you begin?
We combated this by creating an area called “Countfire HQ”. This page is a great starting point for any new employees and links out to all of the core pages and areas they may want to cover.
This means that anyone in the team, new or existing, can refer back here as a kind of directory of the core pages they may need to access.
2. Departments or business groups
The second core area in our company wiki is the individual pages for each department, which we call “business groups”, such as Sales, Marketing, Success and Development.
Each group has its own page, which may link off to sub pages explaining that group’s role, how to handle tasks within that group and how to use tools that will be relevant to that department. The sub pages for each group within the wiki might include:
- Overview of the team (e.g. “About Success”)
- How to handle tasks related to this team
- Things to do/not do if you work within this group
These three categories are fairly generic across all groups, then there will also be group-specific pages related to that business function. For example, in Customer Success this could be “tone of voice when speaking to customers” and within Development it might be “our code style”.
Another handy section we add under each business group is for key areas of responsibility:
Areas of responsibility
This is a great way to detail who owns what within your company. For example, if you need a new office chair who should you speak to? Similarly if a system fails out of hours, who is the person who might be able to fix that?
Part of a wiki’s job is to save on repeat questions and breaking down areas of responsibility is a good first step.
3. Helpful resources
Now onto the fun stuff. Once you have all of the core pages detailed you can begin thinking about how to make your living, breathing wiki useful to your team’s everyday life. Here, we decided to use it as a portal that could take someone to any of our tools or business areas, so that everything was grouped in one place. An example of this is our software listings page:
Software and services page
As a tech company we also use a lot of tech. This means we have a range of software tools we use for specific functions within the business. The Software and services page is a master list of all the software tools our company and product is built upon. It gives us a handy home to put any software specific content, which really helps to keep Notion organised and easy to know where to add content to. Using one of Notion’s famous in line tables we describe each tool, what it’s used for and which departments it applies to. You can see a small excerpt here:
We also pull this through to each business groups page, but filtered to just the tools most relevant to that department.
4. Company wiki templates
Like most companies, we have tasks and processes which repeat periodically. One of which is setting our company goals and objectives.
To help unify this and ease the repetitive task of setting up a new document, we created a saved template known internally as “Epic template”.
When it comes to objective setting time, usually before the start of a new quarter, each person in the team can open up a new page within their personal dashboard and use the same planning template.
Notion also offers its own list of templates with everything from content calendars, to engineering wikis.
However by creating your own templates you can customise these to your business function, and easily add them to new pages each time the same task rolls around.
Creating a company wiki may seem like a daunting task but the short term pain will be worth it in long term gain. As a company whose priority is to work efficiently it’s vitally important our team has access to the resources they need.
Creating a company wiki has allowed us to reduce noise and interruption (the business equivalent of “just Google it”) and empowers the team to default to action. Yes it takes time to maintain and it’s the type of function that isn’t likely to ever be “done”. But if it was then we wouldn’t be using it properly anyway.