“Files are like contracts. No one really needs them until there’s a problem!”
― Cynthia Kyriazis
An effective, easy to use filing system is essential for any business. Whether it is to keep (and find) documents for the tax man, or to manage client records or to keep track of assets, knowing where to find something quickly can save time and money.
The majority of businesses have both physical and digital files. Decisions as to who has access to what documents and where/how the information is stored underpins any filing system. There are also considerations of confidentiality and safe-keeping. Whatever system is used, the key is whether or not the right people can access the right documentation at the right time.
Physical or hard-copy filing tends to be easier to manage:
- Decide on categories, naming conventions and filing order e.g. alphabetical or date.
- Label each folder, file, drawer or box. (If you are using boxes, clear see-through boxes just make life easier.) This should include the subject, date period and any restrictions on access; e.g. Employee records, 2012-2016, HR access only.
- Open new folders or files when you have a new category, or when older folders are full. Colour coding allows for simple differentiation.
- Have a file for every document and place every document in its file. Incorrect or sloppy filing of documents may have financial or legal consequences over and above being inefficient.
- Ensure compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act and other legislation by keeping a filing register. This states where a file is kept, its contents, when it was last updated and by whom and when it should be destroyed.
- Ensure that access is controlled and take precautions to protect documents from physical damage such as fire or water and/or maintain a back-up.
- Remove and destroy old or irrelevant documentation to free up storage space.
A digital filing system is simply a virtual version of the real thing but because the documents are not actually flowing over the desk onto the floor, it’s so much easier to be lazy. However, it’s also so much easier to lose information because of poor filing or sloppy naming.
Firstly create folders or directories on your computer and in your inbox. There needs to be a logical home for every document that you create or receive by email… then use that ‘file save as’ function.
Be strict about referencing, naming conventions, versions, and dates. e.g. Folder – VIP Clients; sub-folder - Smith & Sons; Contract version 3, 05 06 2016. Having many versions of the same document simply wastes space and causes confusion, especially when multiple users are accessing the same documents. Facilities such as Dropbox do help by automatically showing date and time of editing & by whom.
Back-up regularly onto hard drives or the Cloud or use a data storage company.
Protect data and confidentiality with appropriate passwords, file-level, and share-level permissions and encryption.
Have a procedure in place for electronic filing and sharing, with step-by-step instructions on categorizing and naming so that everyone knows how to save files and how to find information.
Review the filing system annually to ensure that it works. Is it easy to use and are employees actually using it?
Archive or destroy documentation that is no longer legally required or relevant. This can be a mammoth task, so it may be worthwhile investing in software tools which identify and remove inappropriate, duplicate and redundant content.
The filing is everyone’s responsibility, including yours as the business owner. Lead from the front by developing good housekeeping habits and your employees will be more inclined to follow suit.
Author: Janet Askew