Getting overexcited

Just wondered has anyone used Airtable to Organise their company manual? I am quite new to Airtable and getting a little over-excited - at the moment our company manual drives me crazy as it frequently needs updating (or at least small sections do) just wondered if anyone else had popped there’s into here and if so what it looked like and how successful its been

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I haven’t but I can see why it might be a compelling idea. There are many business content tasks that circle around data and utilizing a database in cases that are atypical is probably going to lead to better solutions.

Airtable records support rich text so there’s good formatting of content. It supports links, and images, and such - all of the stuff that’s needed in a company manual. It also has a page designer for creating a suitable consumption model. Airtable is also a good data collaboration tool which comes in handy for creating a unified content base with a team. And lastly, if you treat your company content like data, you have the ability to create more custom manuals for targeted departments by using views and filters to customize the manuals where it makes sense.

Where you may run into issues is printing a unified document from a collection of records or separate page designer pages. It’s quite possible to envision a multi-record page designer output that would allow you to generate and distribute a PDF, so it all looks promising but worthy of a few quick tests first.

Let innovation ring!

@Michelle_King If you were to ask my personal opinion on this, I would not recommend Airtable for this task.

This would be an extremely challenging & frustrating project to accomplish with Airtable, and you will end up using lots of external tools to help you with this project anyways. You won’t be able to do it all in Airtable itself.

In my personal opinion, you are way better off using a dedicated app that is designed for projects like this, such as Scrivener. Scrivener is a writing program that is perfectly suited for both non-fiction & fiction documents. And I’m sure there are other great apps out there as well.

However, if you’re really excited about doing this with Airtable, you may want to chat with @kuovonne about this — she just created an entire reference book with Airtable. (Although as I mentioned above, it required a bunch of other tools as well.)

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You can practically hear my brain explode in @kuovonne’s episode haha. Such an impressive workflow.

@Michelle_King Airtable would be good for helping you get your thoughts organized and even working out an update schedule, but if you’re looking for one-stop solution for publishing an updated manual as a PDF, I don’t think Airtable is your best bet unless you’re willing to employ a process as complicated as Kuovonne’s.

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So I wasn’t thinking that big lol - at present we have all separate documents in word and then there mergerd together into one big document - i was thinking of it working as a glorified index with the word document dropped in as an attachment so I only need to alter one document at a time and can schedule updates of each section

@Kamille_Parks, @ScottWorld - agree with your points, and this is why I suggested any endeavor to leverage a data tool as the basis for a content development should go through a vetting process for the case that @Michelle_King was envisioning. We don’t really know what her true requirements are, so it’s difficult [for me] to say this is a bad idea. I can only say - it’s an idea, and it might be a good one if the tumblers of the universe align.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m a huge fan of creating, managing, and publish content with database tools. More than 2 years ago I created a high-velocity news feed with Airtable - still in use today for an LA-area group. Fully automated, compiles the content selectively and prepares nice HTML report messages. Making the leap to PDF and other Intranet publishing requirements is not huge. I think the bigger challenge is editing and composing - the Airtable tools are not ideal, but even that could be moved into almost any text editor.

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I actually created a base for our Company handbook, as well as important forms employees will need in the future.
New hires are provided a link where they upload their ID/SS card and acknowledge all manuals and handbooks. You can view it here.

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Bingo! Now we have some additional requirements. I’d say you’re hunch to use Airtable for this is a good one - it will likely work well.

I personally find Airtable’s ability to format content inadequate for publishing a nicely formatted manual.

Do you need a printed manual, and how often does it need updating? If it needs very frequent updates and doesn’t need to be physically printed, can you just have an electronic version on a website? You could push content from Airtable to a website.

I built that workflow before scripting block came out, and I had to do a lot of workarounds to get the data to flow nicely. If I had to do it again, I would cut out all of the middeware and use just Airtable (with scripting block) and Microsoft Word. All of the content editing would take place in Airtable. All of the formatting would take place in Word. And a lot of the effort would go into understanding the structure of the data.

This looks like a really cool method of delivering the company handbook and related forms. However, it looks like edit the individual pieces of the handbook in some other app, and include only the most current published versions in the base. Is this correct?

Are you looking for a base to manage delivery of the most recent versions (like in @Holli_Younger’s base? Or do you want a base where you track different versions of each file and the statuses of each version? What do your deliverables look like? One merged pdf file? Multiple pdf files? printed pages?

How would the indexing in Airtable work? Airtable can’t search inside attachments.

One thing to watch out for is to make sure that you aren’t making a maintenance headache for yourself by storing source documents in multiple places. You don’t want to have to manually sync source documents between Airtable and your local computer more than absolutely necessary.

How are you currently putting the Word documents together? Are you using Word’s Master Documents? (Master Documents are a pain to use, but in some very specific use cases, they actually work.)

Yeah - me too, and it’s more than your personal feeling; it’s a fact. :wink: But let’s be clear - managing the content for a document production process and all the commenting and collaboration that occurs – and formatting a document are two very different ideas. The former is Airtable’s sweetspot - the latter, not so much - in fact, not even.

That’s why I manage content in Airtable and push to systems that are able to blend data, imagery, and charts based on content [templates] at render-time. This is a Google Document; the data all comes from Airtable where vast amounts of commentary and collaboration work ensues.

This is why requirements must be carefully considered before pressing on or giving up.

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Sidebar: Actually, it can. :wink:

  1. Script Block passes the documents to Google Vision (or the many services that transform binary to text).
  2. Text is updated in the record (a text version of the document).
  3. Bob’s your uncle.

Well, if you go that route there’s practically nothing that Airtable can’t do, since Airtable can outsource everything. Hey, Airtable, please make dinner …

Airtable can’t natively search inside attachments by itself.

Thanks guys I think something like this would work - our problem is lots of people between different departments save things on their own computers and I panic we will lose things when people leave

Loving the idea of a web based manual we generally update/ check a few sections a month as most of it needs to be updated at least once a year but each department is responsible for keeping its section updated (we have 5 main teams split across 14 locations but with having 27 members of staff and 360ish volunteers things have potential to get messy!)

Honestly somewhere for people to be able to go to get the most up to date info would be incredibly helpful to ensure everyone is working off the same forms.

I appreciate the feedback on the Company Portal. It was one of my first bases and could definitely use some upgrades now, as Airtable as evolved.

@kuovonne:
This looks like a really cool method of delivering the company handbook and related forms. However, it looks like edit the individual pieces of the handbook in some other app, and include only the most current published versions in the base. Is this correct?

You are correct. Each document is created as the master and saved as a word document, for editing purposes at a later time. Then each file is converted to a pdf/a and uploaded into Airtable. Access is provided only to those employed. After an employee leaves the company they no longer have access. If a document comes up, or an important form requiring signature it is uploaded and an email is sent to all employees letting them know of the update.

Furthermore, we have different departments, some of which work the overnight shift so their holidays, days off get are different than those that work in the office. By using Airtable I am able to easily tag each document to allow those to see only the relevant documents to their specific department/role within the company.

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