While electronic storage systems can help an office to reduce their use of paper and improve their carbon footprint, it can still be challenging to keep those electronic documents organized. The average American consumer owns 3.2 electronic devices, and it can be assumed that the use of multiple devices manifests itself in the workplace as well. As a result, more and more businesses are turning to the cloud for basic business applications and file storage.
When documents are stored in the cloud through the use of a document management system (DMS) and employees are given the proper authority to access what they need for their job, it fosters an environment of better collaboration. With DMS systems, especially those that provide the ability to create digital PDFs that are organized through optical character recognition (OCR), even older documents can be scanned and made available for use and reference within the DMS.
Regardless of the type of file system you use in your business, the organization is key. The purpose of any electronic file management procedure is so that employees can find what they are looking for, even if it has been several years since the document was created. In a paper office environment, vital information is often left sitting on one piece of paper, filed away in a cabinet somewhere or sitting on someone’s desk. In fact, 7.5% of documents get lost, and another 3% get misfiled, which means these documents may never be located. On occasion, these documents can include tribal knowledge that would benefit all employees, if only they knew it existed.
Your customers (and prospective customers) will appreciate the responsiveness, organization, quality, and easy communication that comes from the ability to quickly find the information that a customer needs. When employees can easier locate important documents, it results in increased efficiency as well as faster response times to your customers. We’ve all been in the situation at a point in our careers where a customer has reached out and needed something for us quickly, and we’ve been unable to find it. This definitely creates a bad and embarrassing situation.
Effective organization of digital documents is especially important in a shared environment. Maximize your file management process with these easy tips:
- One place to go for all company documents – Place all documents under a single “root” folder. For a single user in a Windows environment, the default location is the My Documents folder. In a file sharing environment, you can do the same by creating a single root folder and storing all documents in subfolders inside that root folder. Having a single location for all electronic documents will make it easier to find files. If you want to know about keeping your files organized in one place then read this article on Zoho.
- Use a logical hierarchy to create folders – This of these as the drawers of your filing system, but on your computer. Use plain and easy to understand nomenclature to name your folders. This article by Chelsea Beck will give you some tips.
- Create a file naming process and educate employees on how to use it – In many cases, organizations elect to develop a standard naming convention for files that all employees use. For example, a document about Amazing DMS Systems that was written on June 1, 2019, might be saved as 20190601.AmazingDMSSystems, or something similar. Because the DMS will recognize titles and keywords within the search function, make sure that you leverage those keywords in your file’s title.
- Develop a file training and ensure all new employees and existing employees take it – Many organizations benefit from creating a quick tutorial and training plan that shows employees how to leverage the DMS and how to save and name their files. All new employees should participate in the training before accessing company documents. For added assurance, consider having employees retake the tutorial on an annual basis.
- Be specific – As mentioned above, make sure that your electronic file names are logical and specific. The goal when naming files is to be able to tell what the file is about without having to open it and look. If your company frequently shares files via email or portable devices, you may wish to consider include more specific information within the file name, since the folder information will not be included with the shared file.
- Use the default installation folder for your program files – Use the default file locations when installing application programs. Under Windows, convention application program files reside under the Drive Letter >Program Files directory. Installing applications elsewhere will result in confusion for your employees. This educational video on YouTube will guide you about its implementations.
- Don’t be afraid to create folders inside folders – Create secondary sub-section folders within these main folders as needs arise. For instance, a folder called Expense Reports might contain folders called “2019”, “2018” and “2017.”
- File often and consistently – In other words, file as you go. The best time to file a document is when you first create it. So, encourage your employees to get into the habit of using the “Save As” dialogue box to file your document as well as name the file according to your company’s guidelines, and them immediately filing it into the appropriate folder.
- Take advantage of the alphabet – If you have a file that you will be using regularly, don’t be afraid to rename that particular file to start with a number or the letter A. This will help ensure that your file is always at the top of the list when sorted by alphabet.
- Back up your files often – Unfortunately, things do happen, so it is important to back up your files on a regular basis.
- Develop a timeframe for how long files need to be retained – In some businesses, certain documents such as payroll and employee files need to be maintained for a certain number of years. Explore how long your company files need to be retained, and then develop a process to cull and retire files that are no longer needed after their expiry date. This will help to keep your filing system cleaner.
- Conduct regular audits – Assign a team member or business leader to conduct monthly audits of your company files to ensure that everything is named according to the company procedures. By getting in front of misfiled or misnamed documents on a regular basis, it will be easier to get in front of the employee to have them correct the issue before they no longer remember what the intention of the document was for.
The management of your electronic documents should be part of the overall document management strategy for your business. A proper document management plan should include all aspects of handling documents, including storage, retrieval, backups, and security.