Cursor Curated
21st November 2023

Is your organisation suffering from file chaos?

Where's my stuff!

23 Cover file organisation chaos
Cursor Curated Issue 23
Daniel Westlake

If you were to break down the time spent during your working day, how would it look? Six hours working, one hour water cooler chatting, two hours commuting, perhaps. 

What if we told you that more than half of all office workers spend more time searching for files than getting work done? You’re not alone – it’s a common problem as companies grow and more staff need access to content.

Before long, files become lost in a sea of disparate storage systems, from internal drives to Dropbox and Google Drive. What’s more, poor processes, or lack thereof, mean people can lose files easily. So what can we do to avoid these needle-in-a-haystack situations? 

Everything from data overload to poor organisation, inconsistent file names and lack of metadata can make a difference. The good news is that there’s a solution for each of these common errors.

Poorly organised folders

A well organised folder structure will simplify the process of locating and accessing files. Think of a logical structure that works for your organisation. A good starting point is to create a hierarchical folder structure that mirrors the organisation's departments, teams, or projects. Place more general or overarching categories at the top level and progressively more specific folders as you descend. Use clear and consistent folder labels reflecting the content they contain.

Document the company folders and how things should be named and make sure that new (and existing) staff are trained on how to organise things.

23 file structure

Dealing with data retention

Every business needs to adhere to regulatory standards or legal compliance for storing records. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation offers the right to have information deleted. It’s important to stay on top of what must be destroyed after a certain time period has elapsed; for example, HR data on an ex-employee.

Most important with record retention is effective classification. By categorising folders correctly, we can see which records must not be deleted. They should be checked throughout their lifecycle to make sure your organisation stays compliant. Consider prefixing folders with a date so you can easily see what should be retained and what can be deleted. One thing to note is that using YYYY-MM-DD format will automatically keep your folders in chronological order.

Poor performance

Many workers complain that accessing the company network or shared drives via a VPN is painfully slow. Older hardware and storage systems may work okay for users in the office but for remote users using a VPN to access, things can become bogged down.

Consider using cloud based storage for files that are regularly accessed by remote teams. We could write much more on the potential risks of cloud storage for business critical documents but just remember that cloud does not equal safety. Things still need to be backed up as storing files on a cloud computer is just like storing on someone else’s computer. You can’t always rely on it.

23 cloud storage

Ask your remote users how they see files on shared drives - sometimes thumbnails or preview views and other meta information isn’t available and, without it, searching through photos becomes almost impossible.

If you don’t provide good performance for remote workers, don’t be surprised if your business ends up with lots of ‘un-official’ or ‘shadow’ IT systems - people just want to do their job and can, for the best of reasons, create new back channels around existing bottlenecks to allow them to work effectively. But beware, these can turn into a security nightmare if left to grow unchecked.

Be careful when sharing files

Sharing files with almost anyone is now quick and convenient with many cloud services and in some cases, you can share sensitive information online with just a few clicks. Make sure you know who has access to folders before you put sensitive data there. Don’t provide sharing links that can be used by anyone - limit to accounts that you know.

Avoid sharing documents with generic sounding email addresses attached to them such as marketing@ or sales@. These might be used by a colleague but in the wise words of Gandalf, “We do not know who else may be watching.

It goes without saying that you don’t put sensitive information in locations that are publicly accessible from the Internet, but this also applies to sharing links that are publicly accessible. If you aren’t limiting access to particular accounts, make sure that a sharing link is password protected.

Inability to search for information

A clear and simple naming system can prevent lost file disasters. If your users can’t find information due to inconsistent or vague naming, they’ll soon become frustrated. When naming files, remember:

  • Keep names clear, concise and descriptive
  • Add dates or version information to indicate the last modification date (this is important for auditing – not just for finding files but ensuring they are the most recent ones)
  • Create a standardised naming convention such as name and date
  • Limit special characters in file names as these can make searches difficult.

The takeaways

As organisations grow, data management becomes more challenging. File storage and structure may grow organically in line with the business growth path, but this can lead to inefficiencies in storage systems or user access.

When thinking about growing your business, think about your current needs and your future ones. This includes a strict risk management strategy with user access and personally identifiable information, as well as legal compliance.

23 well managed storage

Proper data storage comes down to three key ingredients: the right technology, structure and processes. The latter is most important, encouraging a culture of file management through standardised naming conventions and security best practices. Consider training staff from the moment you’ve onboarded them – this way, the whole organisation will follow the same set of processes and avoid setbacks.

Data is currency and we need to make sure we handle it correctly. Only with the right processes can we leverage structure and tech.

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