Best Practices for Organizing Business Files

Tired of digging through an endless sea of folders and files to find that one document you need? You’re not alone. Your employees are right there with you. 

Employees spend about 19% of their workweek searching for information. That’s a big chunk of time, and as we all know, time is money. In addition to costing your company money and stressing out your employees, a poor file structure can jeopardize the security of your files and make onboarding new hires a messy process.

The best practices covered below can be applied to any type of data storage method, whether it’s cloud-based or a local server. However, specialty platforms such as Onehub make the transition simple and intuitive. 

Remember to plan your folder structure around your long-term business goals. If your company is a startup or a steadily growing small business, you’ll want a file structure that you can grow into. It’s much easier to maintain organized files when you don’t have to rethink the structure in a couple of years. Restructuring means you’ll have to move files into new folders, which can break hyperlinks that direct to those files.

Pick a top-level folder structure that works for your business.

Your top-level folders’ structure will depend on the type of business you have and how your employees tend to work. That said, there are common structures that accommodate a range of company types and working styles.

Onehub users can use Workspaces as a top-level folder and house all relevant files within that Workspace. From there, users can easily and securely share files with others, assign tasks, approve file changes, and leave comments on a file or folder.

Departments

This structure works well for companies that have departments that function as microcosms. If your company has a marketing department, an HR department, an IT department, etc., it’s best to create a top-level folder for each of them. This will allow workers in those departments to access files relevant to their work quickly. 

Clients

Client-based companies such as property management agencies may find it useful to structure their files around clients. An easy way to do this is to create a top-level Clients folder and then add a subfolder for each client. If you have (or plan to have) hundreds of clients, a list of client subfolders may become overwhelmingly long and difficult to scroll through quickly. To solve this, 

create subfolders for each letter of the alphabet or a range of letters. You’ll then add a folder for each client under the appropriate letter or range. 

Products or Services 

If your company focuses on specific products or services, creating top-level folders for each product/service is a good way to go. A marketing agency could have top-level folders named after its services such as Web Design, Branding, and Advertising. The exact folder names will depend on your business offerings, but the general principle applies to all product or service-based companies. 

Create subfolders based on feedback from your team.

Your team handles the details of day-to-day operations, so they know what subfolder organization would work best for them. Allow them to brainstorm the subfolder topics to meet their needs. Have the managers over each department, product, or service review the list of subfolder suggestions and decide which ones to implement. 

To make your digital files easy to find, keep in mind the number of clicks it will take to get to a file. If you’ve nested files within 8 levels of subfolders, it will take a lot of clicking to get to the files you want. Burying files too deep in subfolders makes it frustrating to get to them and also makes it less likely you or your team will take the time to file new documents correctly. 

Another common pitfall to watch out for is storing too many files within one folder. If your employees have to scroll through 50 files to get to the one they need, they could benefit from a subfolder to add another layer of organization.

Tips for subfolders

  1. For folders that include dates, put dates in a format that will keep them in chronological order, such as YYMMDD. 
  2. Include Draft and Final subfolders for documents that go through multiple updates. As an example, a marketing department may have a folder string that looks like this: Client Name > Proposals > Draft > Filename.
  3. Many top-level folders can benefit from an Archive subfolder. Archive folders make it easy to store outdated business files that may be needed in the future. 

Establish file-naming conventions.

Descriptive, standardized file-naming conventions are an essential part of a well-functioning folder hierarchy. Being able to quickly find information saves employees time and frustration and helps your organization run more smoothly.  

Tips for file names

  1. Don’t use special characters.
  2. Be descriptive. You should know at a glance exactly what information a file contains. Never use a generic file name such as Invoice.doc. Even though the folder name provides context (e.g., ClientA > Invoices > 2020 > May > Invoice.doc), it makes it difficult to find the file using the search function. A better name for this file would be ClientA-Invoice-202005.
  3. Create a naming system for documents that go through multiple iterations. A simple method for this is to include a version number at the end of the file name for a document that’s still being shuffled through the revision process. Use FINAL for the final approved version. (Examples: ClientName-Proposal-v.1 and ClientName-Proposal-FINAL)

Document the process.

Even the most thought-out, practical folder structure won’t work if people aren’t following it. You have to get everyone on the same page and provide documentation that employees can review if they forget a naming convention. You should also make this document part of your onboarding guide. It can be challenging to break employees of old habits, but if you train new hires on the proper folder and file procedures, they’re much more likely to stick to them. 

Keep business files secure by assigning roles and permissions. 

Whether you’re using a local server or a cloud storage provider, you should have settings that allow you to protect sensitive files. The process and terminology for setting up user roles and sharing permissions will vary greatly depending on your file storage method, so we’ll cover Onehub’s options for roles and permissions. 

Onehub uses a role-based permission system with 7 access levels to give you granular control over your business files and folders. It’s simple to add or remove permissions at any time. To ensure you’re assigning the right level of access, you can preview what the folder or file will look like to someone in that role. This means you can confidently and securely share your files.

Already have a great business file structure?

If you have a great file structure but need a new storage and file-sharing solution, Onehub makes it easy to transfer your file storage hierarchy with a simple drag and drop. Your structure will be maintained, and you won’t have to move files over individually. 

You can test-drive Onehub’s file storage and sharing capabilities with a free trial — no credit card required.