10 best practices for file management and archiving

File transfers

File management is crucial for businesses and organizations to minimize confusion and maintain document control. It’s important to have a system with a strategy in place that allows you to archive and store your files.

File archiving helps you monitor and manage your documentation. It acts as a collection of data that gives you access to multiple computer files and their data, making it easier to manage your records. To store and retrieve your documents, you want to develop practices that ensure operational excellence, syncing your data and simplifying the way it is archived.

The essential need for proper file management is so you know you can find what you’re looking for easily. Whether communicating with clients or collaborating with colleagues, your business data needs to be readily available with ease.

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There are several advantages to improving your document management system. Some of these include:

  • Improving workflow: allows employees to collaborate effectively on documents they’re co-working on to eliminate any unnecessary back-and-forth.
  • Enhancing company security: ensures that you will securely share and store your documents with customer safety in mind.
  • Protecting from technical issues: backing up your files and establishing a system to do so will minimize any mishaps with regard to losing data.
  • Saving time: file and archive management lets you search through documents quickly and easily searchable.
  • Easier file retrievals: with a system in place for finding what you need, you will take away the hassle of having to find what you’re looking for–or remember where you put it.

Knowing the benefits of document management will help open your eyes to why you should consider taking the time to create a system for this to enhance your business operations and overall productivity. It will also help you grow your business value by maximizing your success.

But what are the best practices for file management and archiving? Here’s a list of ten of the most influential things you can do now to remain proactive on this.

1. Establish File Management Goals

Take a look at your current system, or lack thereof, and get real about what your business or organization is in need of with regard to this type of management. You want to establish stipulations to outline that will comply with the requirements and needs of your business.

According to Yang Zhang, CEO of Plasmic: "If your business sends and receives multiple types of documents, consider all those categories. Who you’re sharing your files with, what the files are for, and what you’d like to achieve from properly archiving these files should all be considered. You may need storage for legal reasons, to keep historical records for audits, or perhaps to retrieve for your customers as needed".

Once you set these goals and understand what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll never have to worry about having to delete content again. You’ll have an archival system in place to preserve your necessary data and retrieve it simply. You can avoid many common accounting mistakes that can hurt your organization’s value by considering this, as well.

2. Assign Roles and Positions

Not only do you need to know who is going to have access to this data, but you need to know who will maintain it. The plan needs ownership, and you want to establish a team who is going to be accountable for this new system. As a team leader, manager, or business owner, consider assigning someone to assist with these efforts and be the person who takes the reins on making sure this works to the organization’s advantage.

Everyone needs someone to turn to with questions, so decide who that person is going to be. Furthermore, communicate the goals you’ve established to them, and be sure it's someone who has the expertise to hold the influence over these practices. They should be able to deal with policy compliance and other legal regulations.

Consider the success factors of the employee when deciding who to bring along this venture so that you continue to honor their professional skillset and keep them motivated to do the work here.

3. Obtain a File Management System

Thankfully, there are many operating systems you could put to use in assistance with the functionality of your file management. Your file management system is the platform or software you’re using to run your system through. It is the database that will take your organizational goals and help you process and track them.

Using file management systems allows you to spend more time in your day-to-day work by organizing documents, generating reports, storing and backing up your data, and making your files easily searchable. Businesses and organizations are moving toward the elimination of paper file systems more now than ever before, and it’s because of reasons like these.

Do your research about various file management systems; you can use and spend time looking through their features to see if they meet the needs of the goals you’ve set up. Consider allowing the team you’ve established to help you decide which operating system will work best for everyone.

4. Explore System Automations

Even if it's in the realm of your expertise, it’s no secret that this type of organization and management can feel tedious to those who have many other important tasks to focus on. It doesn’t make this one less important, but thankfully, there are many ways to help simplify things for your team and you.

Some automated systems help you save email attachments you may receive from clients and other organizations that can be filed instantly or automatically back up your files. They can assist you in transferring files, importing/exporting them, and ease your workflow. It’ll save you time, money, and resources that can be used for more productive measures.

"If you want better collaboration, improved regulatory compliance, and the minimization of project delays, consider the benefits of automation,'' says Chelsea Cohen, Co-Founder of SoStocked.

5. Develop a Structure for Folder Filing

Depending on the business or organization you’re running, you could potentially have dozens (if not more) of unique categories of documents you need to be storing at all times, all for different reasons. That’s why developing a structure for your folder filing is going to be the best next step.

The standards to which you manage these files are crucial. Without a framework put in place for the way your documents will be stored, it’s only going to cause more conflict. Use a hierarchy system to create folders that feel logical for maximizing the efforts you’re intending. There should be a default file locations directory where the documents are stored in one place (like your file management system) and from there, you can use that to make subfolders within that root folder.

You don’t want to over-complicate this. Just be sure that your main folders act as the "nests" for the data and correspondence that you will include.

6. Consider a Name Filing Strategy

The way you name the folder file structure needs to be descriptive and easily identifiable to all those accessing it. Your folders might contain invoices, contracts, packing slips, agreements, etc. all for the same client or entity. You want to be as specific as you can while also keeping within a character limit that is not too complex.

Come up with specific abbreviations, keywords, or patterns for recognizing your documents that can be streamlined throughout the system. Also, keep in mind the readability to those outside your team and organization. These documents could/will be sent to clients and auditors, so you want them to know what they’re getting before they even open the document based on its name.

Having created a hierarchical system for your folder filing, break down that specific information best you can to include in the file names for clarity.

7. Configure your Archive Filing

Remember, archive filing is a part of the file management system, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Your archive filing focuses on condensing your inactive files and storing them somewhere they’re easily attainable without crowding the active files and documents. Think of it as the secondary storage system for long-term file retention. It keeps the two separate while allowing them both to exist for your needs when necessary.

Whether it be for your clients, tax filing, or data collection, be sure you’re clear on how long you plan to store your documents and why you’re doing so. Depending on the file management software you’ve chosen, and your automated operations, lots of this can be done without too much time.

Indexing the files that may not be of use to you at the current moment will eliminate you having to filter through files or take up too much of your primary space for documentation.

8. Enhance Your File Safety and Security

There are numerous issues that could arise that put your documents at risk. This could be for system failures and crashes, or even for protection from those who may seek to corrupt or attain any of your files without permission. You do not want to be vulnerable to the glitches in technology and software, or any entity who may mishandle your documents.

Peter Robert, the founder and CEO of Expert Computer Solutions, highly recommends doing backups regularly.  "Backing up your files into storage clouds and locations is essential to do regularly. Shutdowns and issues with electronic equipment can occur. Errors and mishaps when someone is not properly using the system can occur. However, you can be proactive to be sure 'damage control' is always automated for you. If the files are backed up regularly, future issues can be resolved knowing the documentation you’re storing is safe."

Keep in mind which pieces of documentation are confidential, and what the ethical guidelines are to practice for the clients whose information you may be storing. Optimize your resources to establish who has access to the files and how you can secure that privacy. Utilize metadata to label access requirements, and use privacy settings where you can so that you’re never in danger of the unpredictable slowing down your business or organization’s functionality or client rapport.

9. Audit the Activity and Data

You must periodically check in on your process to keep things concise, and this could very well be where your team comes into play. While you, as the team or organizational leader are meant to oversee this process, there should be a regular clean-up over a period of time to be sure you’re saving space and keeping the records organized. While you cannot simply delete most of your documents regularly due to obligational standards by law, things do happen that require you to keep things tidy in your system.

Activity auditing is a way to monitor and keep a trail of who is retrieving documents and utilizing the systems and files. This will show you if anyone who wasn’t supposed to access documents was, or if things were altered without permission. While you can secure your safety best you can, it’s still important to check in.

It acts as evidence of who is properly handling your files.

10. Revise and Restructure Your System

Pay attention to how the system is working over time, and don’t feel discouraged if you’ve got to make some adjustments. The infrastructure of your business or organization could change, and that means your system of operations does too. If you potentially grow out of the software or program you’re using to store and regulate your files, that’s okay too.

But you’ve got to maximize the efficiency by assessing if you’re getting the results you wanted. As you become more efficient in maintaining a system like this, you will want to expand your organizational abilities. If changes need to be made to the process, you don’t want to wait too long. It’s better to be proactive so that you’re not wasting your team’s or your time.

Conclusion

To keep a strong work culture and operational efficiency, practicing a good file management and archiving system will help you keep and store your records without "winging it." Not only will this keep your clients satisfied, but your team members working productively, improving your continuous workforce management to stay ahead of the game.

It’s all about finding what you need most easily, and that does not come without proper strategy. Handling, storing, accessing, securing, and archiving your documents all need to be handled with care. Your data is valuable, and because you’re constantly producing it (even when you may not realize it), it must be protected.

Implementing a file management and archiving system should be done sooner than later.

Image credit: dny3d/Shutterstock

Roman Shvydun writes informative articles mainly about everything related to marketing, business, productivity, workplace culture, etc. His articles focus on balancing information with SEO needs, but never at the expense of providing an entertaining read. See a few more examples of Roman’s articles by visiting his Twitter: https://twitter.com/Roman27561221

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