Electronically sharing documents between users may be necessary for office workflow, but searching for the correct version of a file can drain productivity and cause frustration. According to a 2012 study by Harris Interactive, a Rochester, N.Y.-based market research firm, 83 percent of employees say they waste time every day tracking, sharing or finding the correct version of a file.
"Documents are like rumors -- once they're shared, you don't know what they'll look like when they come back," says Christopher Seiwald, CEO of Perforce, an Alameda, Calif.-based productivity software company.
Working from the wrong version of a file can lead to missed business opportunities, damaged reputations and poor impressions on colleagues and customers.
Seiwald says a few small steps can help everyone in your company keep track of shared documents.
1. Adopt a smart naming scheme.
Don't label documents "new" or "final," says Seiwald, as they are never really new or final for long.
"You'll end up with file names like: 'sales_presentation_final_draft8_sally_reallyFINAL' and nobody can understand that," he says.
Instead, Seiwald suggests adopting a company-wide naming scheme that uses version numbers or dates and initials of the person who created or edited it. For example, that sales presentation might be named: sales_presentation_ver5 _SV.
2. Reconsider using email for document sharing.
Email as a document-sharing method can cause a lot of problems. People end up wasting time trying to find the right email, and risk not sending it to everyone who should contribute, says Seiwald.
Email also can't accommodate large file sizes, which means that businesses might share large files in one place and small files in another, creating potential content chaos. "Use email for conversations about a document," says Seiwald. "But don't use it as a document management option."
3. Find a system that works for your staff.
Be warned, if you try to implement a new file management system, your staff might find a way to work around it. The Harris Interactive study found that 92 percent of employees use email even when there is another file management system in place. Choose a method that's flexible enough to let employees work the way they want to.
"Web-based file-sharing systems, such as Dropbox, make it easy to share files by emailing a link," says Seiwald. The downside is that the document exists outside the company's firewall, making it vulnerable to hackers. Another option is a system such as Google Docs. However, collaboration can be challenging because multiple people can make changes at the same time, he says.
Companies can also use document-collaboration software, which addresses issues such as security and versioning. Commons, a software package offered by Seiwald's company Perforce, allows employees to safely share and collaborate on documents without overwriting someone else's work. It's free for up to 20 users. Another option is Sharepoint by Microsoft. Starting at $3 per user per month, it allows companies to organize and share documents online.
Whatever you do, don't just outsource your decision to your IT department. "Try different systems and get feedback [from your employees], Seiwald says. "It doesn't do any good to put a process in place if no one is going to use it."