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File Sharing Etiquette

It used to be that a company’s files were stored in physical file cabinets and it was only polite to put those files in the correct cabinet or drawer. Now that most documents are stored virtually, file sharing has altered and expanded the etiquette rules.

For administrators or users of a file sharing platform, etiquette means following certain best practices so that your organization’s files are neat, easily accessible, and so that tempers don’t run hot over the location or status of a particular file. Here are some etiquette practices to keep file sharing order and decorum.

What’s in a Name?

Your organization may have certain guidelines (or outright rules) pertaining to naming your documents. Whatever they are, make sure you adhere to them. The 10 seconds it takes to name a file correctly, can save a lot of headaches in the future. But even if they don’t, you may want to implement some best practices for yourself.

You may want to see a lot of information about the file in its title like what version it is or who edited it last and when, but the best file names are generally short and sweet. If it’s too long then you won’t be able to see the whole name on your screen.

If you absolutely need all of the information in the name of the file, then you can choose to utilize abbreviations to shorten the file name. Just make sure to have all the team members use the same abbreviations. Disaster could strike if a coworker mistakes the “-D” at the end of your file name to mean “done” instead of “draft”

Similarly, if you need a date in the file name then you should also standardize the way you display them. The best way to write dates is the year, then the month, then the day, with a YYYY-MM-DD format. Make sure the month and day always have two digits, even if that means using a 0. This will keep your files in chronological order on an alphabetized list.

Tag It

With a file sharing platform like SmartFile, you can also choose to tag your files with customized attributes such as:

  • Pending
  • Q1
  • Expense report
  • Important
  • Budget

Tags can help you when using SamrtFile’s search function since you can choose to search by tag. For example, if you’ve structured your files so that your expense reports are under each individual client, but you need to collect them for financial purposes, you can search your expense report tag and bring them all up at once.

You can use tags any way you wish, but just like file naming conventions, it’s important that you remain consistent. It can be helpful to create a reference document for any customized tagging and naming conventions that your organization uses so that users can quickly reference it later if (more like when) they forget.

Structure Files

If you have your own office, you can keep it as messy or as clean as you want it. But if you were to share an office with a coworker, you would do them the common courtesy of keeping any shared spaces or resources tidy (or at least you should). The same goes for your shared files.

Does it make sense for files to be organized by departments? By team member? By project? While there is no one right way, there are certainly a couple of best practices that can help keep you and your files on track.

The way you structure your files will depend on your industry and your company, but once you find it, stick with it. Consistency is key. A helter-skelter attitude to file organization can severely limit your productivity. Inconsistencies from one user to another can cause you and your team members unnecessary frustration when you need to find a particular set of files.

Using subfolders can help keep things straight, but there is such a thing as too organized. When you are creating subfolders, try to limit it to 3-5 levels. You want to be able to get an understanding of their contents with a quick glance. Getting too granular with your subfolders has your users clicking down level by level (too many and they may feel like they’re in the seventh level of Hell, clicking for all eternity).

Templates Are Your Friend

As you are organizing your files, you may notice that you use similar folders and subfolders for each client or project. One helpful trick is to create a folder template using placeholder names and empty folders. Then you simply copy the structure and paste it wherever it needs to go. You can always adjust it as needed for clients or projects that are special cases (and you’ll always have clients that think they are the most special).

Having a premade template will not only save you time in the future, but it reinforces whatever structure you have decided to use. Your team members will be more likely to copy and paste an entire premade structure than they are to create folders and subfolders individually.

Clean Up After Yourself

Nobody likes a slob. Even if it’s only virtual. Make sure you are deleting files after you are done with them, especially if they only pertain to you. Maybe you like to create a reference document for your report that helps you keep your thoughts organized. That’s fine! But after you’ve created that report, you don’t need your reference document anymore. Don’t make others sift through virtual piles of notes to yourself.

This doesn’t mean you should go on a deleting spree. If a file seems to be unnecessary but didn’t involve your input, ask the person that is associated with the file before you delete it.

Imagine someone else cleaning your home and deciding what to keep and what to throw away. That napkin with scribbles all over it may have an important phone number written on it. The same may be true of a file that looks like clutter.

You should also check the rules of your company or industry. Many industries like construction, healthcare, banking, etc., have rules and regulations about how long certain types of documents must be retained. It may help to come up with a document retention plan so you know how long you need to keep certain information.

If you’re the one with the responsibility of maintaining your organization’s file sharing platform, then etiquette also demands that you explain why you are asking your team members to conform. Let them know that this isn’t some power trip and you’re not a tyrant, but that it will actually help them in the long run. Similarly, if someone has taken the time to organize your company’s files, then it’s only polite to follow those standards.

SmartFile is a business file mangement platform that gives you more control, compliance and security.