Seven tips for document management success

Struggle to find files when you need them? Read on for seven tips for document management success.

It wasn’t long ago that we stored paperwork in folders and drawers. Most offices had at least one filing cabinet in which documents were organised in folders in alphabetical order. If you were organised in creating and keeping to your filing system, retrieving documents when you needed them was quick and easy. 

But increasingly today, we are moving to electronic documents and paperless offices – especially with remote and hybrid work become more common. This means an end of filing cabinets, and a new world of digital folders. 

And just like physical paperwork, it is essential to ensure you have a simple, clear filing system for your electronic documents. If not, you’ll struggle to locate them when you need them. 

To help you, in this article we share seven tips for document management success. 

1) Identify your document management needs

The first step is to understand how you will use your documents. How often will you need access to them? How long will you need to keep them for? Who will need access to them? What type of files will you need to store? And what software do you need to open them? 

It’s also important to consider the security levels you need. Some documents will be safe for people in your organisation to access and share freely, while others will require more safety levels, such as password protection, user restriction and encryption. For these you’ll need to establish protocols for accessing and sharing. 

2) Design your document management strategy

Next you need to design your document management strategy. This involves developing a plan for your organisation. Where are your documents stored? Who has responsibility for them? Who can retrieve them, when and how? And who is in charge of managing access and destroying them when appropriate? 

Think too about logical ways to structure your digital document storage. You no longer have physical filing cabinets with drawers of alphabetical folders. What’s the digital equivalent for your business? How can you ensure that all documents are stored and labeled in a way that is logical and simple for everyone to navigate? 

3) Select your document management software

Digital documents require storage, organisation and access, and for this you’ll need document management software. 

You need a system with enough capacity to cope with the volume of documents you may require, and the number of users accessing them. It will need to have the appropriate security levels for your business, too. 

Consider features like version control, access controls and search capabilities when making your choice. Check out the usability of systems too – is their structure logical and is retrieval and sharing easy? 

Explore employee management software that offers digital on-boarding and centralized data storage. This allows you to securely store all employee documents and certifications from the moment they are hired. With centralized data storage, you can access your documents from anywhere at anytime, making this an ideal solution for remote workers and multi-location businesses.

Also think about what other software you will need to enable everyone to use the system successfully. Do they have the software they need to create, open, edit share and protect electronic documents? 

4) Convert and index your documents

If you’ve been using paper documents up until now, or a hybrid of electronic and physical documents, you’ll need to start converting and indexing your non-digital documents. 

This will require some form of software, someone with the responsibility to oversee the project, time to complete it, and a plan to follow. This is where the simplicity and logic of your document storage design will be important – you will need to know where to store your new documents, and how to label them so they are easily findable later. 

Before you start on this (potentially large and very important) project, make sure you have the right software ready, such as a Word to PDF converter. This will save you time and ensure your electronic documents are stored in the correct format. 

5) Ensure your documents are easily findable

Also consider tools like optical character recognition (OCR) technology to make your scanned documents searchable. You’ll be very grateful you set this up once your documents are uploaded and people need to start searching for specific files or keywords! Spending a bit more time upfront will save you a LOT of time and stress later. 

Other strategies you can implement to ensure your new document management system is as powerful and user-friendly as possible is adding metadata to your files. This can include tags, keywords, dates, and author information.

This means your team can easily retrieve documents based on dates, the person who created them, and chosen metrics, such as client, project, type of work, location, etc. 

Another important consideration is document version control. This tracks changes and revisions made to documents, so you can ensure the correct version is retrieved, shared and used. You can also revert back to previous versions, and store and retrieve evidence of previous versions if required. And you can check that everyone is using the very latest version. 

6) Communicate your new document management system

Once your new document management system is designed and set up, you will need to inform your team of the new process and educate them on how to use it properly. 

This includes establishing and communicating guidelines for document versioning, including naming conventions and approval processes. You will also need to set clear guidelines around safety, including who has access to what, roles and responsibilities, and the security measures for sensitive and confidential documents. (Also, what constitutes a ‘confidential’ document.)

You will need clear policies and guidelines for how long documents are stored for, based on legal and regulatory requirements, as well as compliance with data privacy laws and industry regulations.

This will involve training for existing employees, as well as new recruits in future. Your training should encourage a culture of document management awareness and adherence to the system you have designed. 

7) Review regularly 

Once your new document management system is up and running, you will need to plan regular assessments of its effectiveness. 

This includes monitoring feedback from the people using it, system performance, security and compliance. Look for areas that need amending and improving and make the required adjustments. 

You may not get it exactly right from the outset; it’s hard to envisage how a system will work until you have people actually using it. But with regular reviews and tweaks where needed, and encouragement of your team to follow the system and feedback any suggestions and issues, you will establish a document management system that saves your company time and money.