In one of humanity’s first attempts at record-keeping, our ancestors drew on cave walls, a central register to store their collective knowledge. Research suggests this ancient practice was one of the earliest systems of documenting information.
Fast forward to modern civilization.
As 21st-century professionals, we have access to sophisticated technology to help us manage documents. So, why does it feel like we’re always drowning under a mountain of documents?
And, of course, you can never find the right file when you need it.
These are common problems faced by many modern professionals.
According to the Definitive Guide to America’s Most Broken Processes, 49% of employees had trouble locating documents and 43% had issues with document sharing.
Now think about how an inefficient document management workflow steals time from your organization.
Day after day, you search for files, print and sign agreements, and create routine business documents from scratch.
When teams are caught up in all that time-consuming admin, creativity and collaboration suffers.
Fortunately, there is a better way to manage documents and it begins here.
Managing Documents in the Modern Workplace
Effective document management is crucial to running a productive business.
Documents are business assets, they hold knowledge and are key resources your organization needs to function.
That’s why more companies are looking to give employees simple, secure ways to work together on files. Several systems and software applications now let teams better manage, organize, and share documents.
It’s no wonder the document management industry is big and growing, fast.
By 2023, the market is estimated to be worth $6.7 billion. Cloud applications lead the pack, letting teams access business documents via secure, remote servers.
There are a few benefits driving this growth:
- Improved collaboration
- Backup of business documents
- Secure storage
- Easy to locate documents
If you’re ready to set up your own system for managing documents, here’s a few pointers to guide your decisions:
- Develop a plan for managing documents
- Examine your workflows
- Determine your unique needs, e.g., industry-specific compliance requirements
Here’s tips to ensure you’re managing your documents in the most effective way.
1. Digitize Documents
Many modern organizations aspire to the ideal of the paperless office. But this concept is nothing new. Even as far back as the 1800s, people were looking for faster ways to communicate; methods that didn’t rely on paper. This ambition lead to inventions like Morse code and the telegraph.
Then in 1975, George Pake, of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research, first predicted the perfect workplace of the future: it was digital, a paperless office.
Still, even after the introduction of advanced technologies, many organizations struggle with cumbersome, manual processes.
And it’s sucking up valuable resources. Filing cabinets that take up space and inefficient workflows are only some of the challenges.
Then there’s the risk that comes with physical documents. Any kind of disaster will create panic and chaos. How will you restore key business data? And how long will it take to recover that data?
Of course, that poses a major threat to business continuity.
So, it’s no surprise that over 80% of businesses want to cut paper out of routine business functions, according to this survey. One large organization removed paper from its processes and cut record management costs by 60%, reports Deloitte.
But digitizing documents seems like a daunting task. Where do you begin? To get you started, we’ve covered this process in detail over here. In short, identify the documents you need and start the scanning process. Do this in-house with scanning software or outsource the job to a company.
2. Prioritize Secure Cloud-Storage
Once you have scanned your documents, you need to save them.
And when it comes to managing documents, cloud-hosted servers have emerged as a safe, affordable option for organizations of all sizes.
Beyond the data recovery benefits, you don’t need to worry about maintaining the server, either.
When you’re on the hunt for a provider, keep one question in mind:
How is this platform protecting my documents?
Over 90% of professionals in this global survey were worried about the safety of their business documents.
Study the measures in place to protect your data privacy. For instance, can you delete your documents from the server?
If you are using a platform to manage documents for signatures, make sure it comes with features like an audit trail.
3. Create Templates
Ever feel like you’re creating, printing and signing the same documents over and over again?
You can save yourself a lot of time and money by automating this process. All you need to do is create templates, then upload to eversign so you can easily sign and send them whenever you need to.
With templates, you no longer need to start from scratch each time you’re creating the same business document. Plus, templates reduce errors because documents come pre-filled with the most important details.
To start, decide which templates you need, those documents you use most frequently.
Examples of templates:
- Terms and conditions
- Registration forms
Templates are great for branding, too. Presenting a unified, consistent set of documents conveys a professional image.
You can get templates from several online resources like Docracy.
But it’s still important to customize documents where necessary. For instance, a marketing proposal needs to be tailored to each client’s needs. By using templates, though, you get to focus on meaningful parts of these documents.
Then use eversign to get the documents signed by all the appropriate people.
4. Use a Consistent Filing Method
How much time do you spend looking for documents?
It’s happened to most of us. You’re trying to find a file for a client and colleague, and sometimes, you lose half the workday trying to track down the document.
We’re all familiar with the frustration—and productivity costs—that come with hunting for documents.
A consistent filing system will eliminate that problem.
Yes, it’s sometimes as easy as adding a few keywords to a Google Docs search bar, but we know this isn’t always as efficient as it sounds. And when you’re dealing with multiple team members and a large volume of documents, you need to develop a standard filing method.
According to Stanford Libraries, among the best practices for filing include starting with a date, e.g., YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD. Things to avoid include long names, spaces, and special characters. Some of these elements won’t be compatible with all operating systems. Instead, opt for more universal characters, like underscores. For this to be effective, all staff need to follow the same naming conventions.
Another great filing technique is creating separate folders for different topics, e.g., marketing, sales, customer support, and finance.
5. Simplify Collaboration
Imagine this: you and your colleagues are working on a document. You’re collaborating via email, editing and saving updates. It’s simple enough at the start. But after a few days, you’re no longer sure what’s the latest version of the document or who has made which changes.
Professionals in this Harris Interactive survey lost 83% time each day due to some kind of problem around document collaboration.
The biggest time wasting activities include:
- Working on an old document
- Having to manually make edits and merge documents
- Looking for the right document
- Emailing back and forth to get documents signed
Why does this matter?
Collaboration is key to your business success. Inefficient document management makes it so much harder.
Plus, all that time spent on tracking down documents could be channeled into creative problem-solving, for instance.
First, look for tools that offer version histories. These records provide a total overview of document, starting from when it created right down to who made the last edit. Second, find applications that let you roll back versions. So, if you make any errors it’s easy to restore the previous version.
With most document management systems, you’ll also get to set access controls. This will let you decide which team members get to view or edit documents. When setting permissions, make sure your team still has a simple way to share files and collaborate.
Lastly, if the documents need to be signed, use an electronic signature tool like eversign so you can automatically send it to all the people that need to sign it. No printing or long email chains needed!
6. Automate Document Management
When it comes to managing documents, make sure the methods and systems you have selected integrate with your existing processes and applications.
For instance, eversign integrates with applications like Google Drive, Evernote, Box, and Dropbox. So you can quickly grab documents you uploaded to the cloud and get them signed online.
Beyond tools, think about your workflow:
- Is your document workflow efficient?
- Which roadblocks can be eliminated?
- Is there room for automation?
Consider how better ways of managing documents can improve the way you work. You can, for example, automate your sales contracts. Instead of sending the contract to the client and following up, set reminders and get alerted when the document has been signed. Not only do you eliminate the back and forth involved with finalizing business agreements, you also create a better experience for the customer.
Managing Documents to Boost Productivity
If you’re not investing in best practices for managing documents, you risk losing time to inefficient processes and tools. The right system creates opportunities for real-time collaboration and improved productivity.
Start putting these document management tactics into practice today. You’ll be on your way to finding better ways to work, freeing you up to spend time on the business priorities that truly matter.