Are Your Files a Mess? This Dropbox Exec's Simple Advice Will Change Everything. Rigid, hierarchy-based file management structures aren't the answer for collaborative, growing companies.

By Lydia Belanger

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Yongyuan Dai | Getty Images

File storage is one of those things that many of us learn intuitively and develop a system as we go. Most of us never get formal training, but if you have, you probably yawned and daydreamed through it, or you thought, "Well, I'd never do it that way."

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While it's an extremely personal task, there are a set of mindsets you can adopt in your approach that will save you time, headaches and even security breaches in the long run, explains Rob Baesman, senior director of product management at Dropbox. Baesman has been with the cloud storage company for three years, and prior to his current role, he spent nearly a decade at VMware.

Through the years, he's seen people from all sorts of professional backgrounds make the same mistakes when it comes to cloud storage and not use these services to their full potential. That's in part, he says, because of their preconceived notions about its functionality.

Baesman spoke with Entrepreneur to provide an overview about how people's rigid ideas about cloud storage get in the way of the fluidity it allows and collaboration it can foster.

Let your files tell a story.
Consider your files a living body of knowledge, Baesman says. One way to do this is to organize them not by department (e.g. HR) but instead by project. Consider having a projects folder, filled with subfolders for every project. Make that projects folder a shared space.

"Files are files. They're a bunch of bits on the disc with useful information embedded," Baesman says. "But there's usually a story or a project behind those collections of files."

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If a project involves, say, Adobe Illustrator, Word and Powerpoint files, all of those should be in the same place so that they can easily be found while the work is being done or after it's completed.

In addition to structure, take advantage of the functionalities within your preferred cloud storage platform that build the narrative for you. Editing and commenting within cloud storage platforms features timestamps, reveals user identities and organizes the workflow for users. Avoid having those conversations on a separate channel such as email or chat.

Don't let future growth paralyze you.
When you're just starting out, you want to grow your business. But that means that someday, hopefully soon, your organization will look vastly different than it does today.

"The key is to really look at the actual work you're doing as a business," Baesman says. "Who are the teams of people that need to come together around that?"

Say you're a year into your company, though, and you have an array of shared folders with no naming scheme. You're overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning up the mess, but you know those files will be needed in the future.

Take the "projects" approach described above, but rather than trying to organize every file, think about which projects have mattered most and start there.

"One team folder can start to collect all of the most important projects," Baesman says. "Don't worry, necessarily, about going fully back in time. Select a good handful of things that are still pretty relevant in the organization, and move those folders out of their separate little corners into the central team folder where everybody can get visibility to them."

From there, you'll help your team build a habit around building folders in that central location whenever a project launches.

Related: 5 Cybersecurity Tools Your Company Should Have

Be proactive about security.
"It remains the case that in the modern world today the biggest threat affecting most businesses is their own users and simple human mistakes," Baesman says. "This is often related to passwords, phishing scams and email." So of course, with any cloud storage system or other piece of software, always be aware of these threats and make sure you're evaluating your organization's security hygiene regularly. Some automated tools can help you do this.

The other element of security is making sure that files don't get into the wrong hands. Some you share only within your organization, and others you share with people outside your organization. Some you want to spread far and wide, such as materials for a marketing campaign. Others, such as an HR folder or your company financials, you want to keep under wraps.

Be aware of all of the sharing controls that file sharing platforms feature. You can add an additional layer of password protection to some files, and you can disable editing on others. You can set a policy on a folder to prevent someone from sharing any of the files in that folder outside of the organization.

"You can set up a few very very simple straightforward policies around those things to restrict the way that sharing can happen on those folders," Baesman says. "This lets collaboration really happen in the places where you know flexibility and agility is a good thing while still locking down those few repositories of information where you are reasonably nervous that a human mistake could lead to really bad outcomes."

Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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