Desks full of binders and busy employees with cardboard folders in their hands – these are classic pictures, especially known from the American cinema of the 1980s. Documents are just waiting to make an impressive mess with the slightest gust. After all, what would Die Hard be without a rain of papers in the final scene? But even today, when paper is becoming obsolete faster and faster, it is still easy to stir chaos in office documentation. How to prevent it?
Electronic document workflow is now a standard. In the era of convenient and extensive access to the cloud, basically every area of the company’s activity where information is processed, can take advantage of its benefits. The solution is effective and often almost cost-free.
However, technology is not enough. The most important are still the rules governing the organization of the processing and flow of documentation. Its rules that make the digital tools work for our company: save time, money and ensure an appropriate level of security.
We present 5 rules thanks to which your company will create an effective document workflow. We hope that they will improve the daily work of your company.
Number 1: keep your information and its sharing process secure.
It is almost certain that the records your company keeps and shares will contain confidential information. These can be employee and customer data protected by GDPR, but also information of strategic importance for the company: financial statements, project data, patents or individual offers.
In order to ensure proper security of documentation, the entrepreneur should not only know the regulations governing information protection, but also test the operation of the documentation flow system in practice. It will not be an exaggeration to organize a compliance audit and the so-called pentests (checking the resistance of the company’s systems to hacking attacks by a specialized institution). Training in best information protection practices for employees is basically a necessity today.
If the company does not have an additional budget, the key will be to learn about phishing: the attempts to extort data through the use of social engineering, e.g. impersonating an employee of a trusted institution. This is currently the most popular strategy used by fraudsters – unfortunately often due to our lack of awareness and vigilance
Your company should precisely determine which channels will be used to share documents outside and inside the organization. Their selection will depend primarily on the purpose (e.g. providing reports for the management board or an offer for the client) and type of the recipient, the degree of confidentiality of the documentation, the required availability (e.g. in remote work) and of course the functions offered by the tool.
The number of distribution channels should be kept to a minimum. A corporate e-mail domain can be integrated, for example, with a Gmail mailbox, which will automatically ensure its high security, good technical support, large disk space and the possibility of collaboration on documents without additional expenditure. Centralization is a term that should always guide us when planning electronic document flow.
For this purpose, it is also worth marking out information and document circulation paths in individual departments of the company and finding points of contact between them. This is where we can expect bottlenecks, for example when a document is waiting to be edited or approved. In such a situation, collaboration, which we cover below, can prove to be a big advantage.
Thanks to centralization and minimization, supervision over who shares what and to whom will become much easier.
Number 3: create a clear documents structure
Companies, especially smaller ones, most often do not need to employ an archivist. It does not mean, however, that they can do without good practices in cataloging, marking or keeping documentation.
Remember to label your documents in such a way that the name enables immediate identification of their content. A much better solution will be to group different types of files in folders, such as Word or Excel, according to their belonging to a specific project, rather than format. It is also worth introducing abbreviations that identify e.g. the type of process or project and include them in the name, and at least once a week – delete or destroy duplicates and working files. All this will help us reduce the volume and make the document circulation system more consistent.
A good solution is to create a central document repository in the cloud – we write more about it in a separate article What is electronic data repository? It will allow storing ready-made versions of documents in one place, with the possibility of assigning different levels of authorization for each employee.
Number 4: where you can, focus on collaboration
Collaboration on documents, i.e. working on a file by several people online – also at the same time – has gained popularity due to the increase in remote working. It is worth using, for example, the Google Docs function. Co-authoring any current content, especially when it is edited by more than one person, allows you to significantly reduce the re-upload of subsequent edited versions of the document and allows access to the content from any device.
Such documents can be provided with an internal comment from editors, which eliminates the need for working on e-mail correspondence, and the history of changes is carefully saved if it is necessary to recreate the work and identify the editor. Finished documents should be saved locally as a backup – for example in a repository.
However, cooperation is not everything. The companies also make the documentation available to external partners and clients. Depending on the degree of confidentiality of a given document, for this purpose we may use Dropbox (non-sensitive documents) and Virtual Data Room (non-sensitive and sensitive documents). The latter will guarantee that the data can be made available only for viewing and, if necessary, it will be possible to block saving, printing or taking a screenshot of the document, as well as withdrawing access to it at any time.
Number 5: remember about convenience
Security, transparency and control do not mean that document workflow in the company has to be an inconvenient process. On the contrary – the flow of information should be organized so that, while observing the above principles, the work is as quick and comfortable as possible.
Optimization directly affects the time and costs of work, and the ease of use and a small number of tools – the easier learning of the principles of the system’s operation. There are tools that make it possible, for example, to obtain an offer signature by the customer at the level of e-mail. Once launched, such a program will help you to buy and pay faster in subsequent transactions – precisely by increasing the convenience.
Each company develops its own optimal document circulation system. As a VDR service provider, however, we notice many similarities in these processes, regardless of the size of the project and industry. We hope that the above principles that improve the work of teams – from multi-million M&A transactions to internal secure file sharing – will also benefit your company.