How to Organize Your Document Workflow Effectively

October 25, 2022

 

Misplaced and mismanaged documents are major speed bumps when it comes to better workplace productivity.

Be it for yourself or across an organization as a whole, having a clear, centralized process for organizing documents is crucial. It speeds up task completion, facilitates easy collaboration, and ensures efficient organizational workflow.

On the flip side, poor document organization practices can hinder—and even halt—employee productivity. When everyone isn’t on the same page regarding document creation, storage, and sharing, deadlines are missed and unfinished tasks pile up.

How can you then ensure effective document organization at the workplace? Read on for 7 tips on how you can organize your document workflow effectively.

 

What does Document Workflow Organization Entail?

 

Document workflow organization ensures that there are clearly outlined processes for creating, storing, sharing, editing, and deleting documents. In essence, it maps out a standard organizational method for managing various document-related activities.

A well-laid out, company-wide document management process will help to—

  1. Boost employee productivity, task completion, and thereby decision-making speed
  2. Provide team members with more clarity on the projects they’re involved in
  3. Smoothen cross-team collaboration on tasks
  4. Ensure workplace transparency within teams
  5. Reduce confusion arising from document clutter
  6. Improve information and digital security
  7. Make regulatory compliance easy

 

8 Tips for Organizing Your Document Workflow Effectively

1. Create a standard and centralized document management process

The first step towards an efficient document workflow is to decide on centralized guidelines on how documents are created, stored, shared, edited, and even deleted.

It’s vital to establish this process in an exhaustive manner so that adoption across different teams within the company becomes easy. Simply having centralized document management guidelines and stating them will not do—it’s important to make them as clear and apparent as possible.

Here are the key areas to consider as you go outline a document management process. Identify your document lifecycle: Firstly, it’s important to have a proper sense of how a document will be managed across different stages of its lifecycle. More often than not documents go through the following stages:

  1. Creation of the document
  2. Centralized storage
  3. Editing with various document stakeholders
  4. Sharing across teams for collaboration and decision-making
  5. Archival or deletion

There need to be clear-cut instructions on how documents are handled at each of these stages. Moreover, it’s important to ask yourself how this lifecycle would change across teams—based on the need for collaboration, ease of access, legal compliance, and other factors.

Ensure transparency: Orient your document management guidelines towards better transparency. This provides clarity on where documents are stored, how one can pull them up for tasks, and tracking version history as documents are worked on by different team members.

Promote collaboration: Cross-functional collaboration is vital for better quality in decision-making. When you lay out guidelines for document management, ensure that they take into account easy access and file-sharing for more collaborative work culture.

Security and compliance: From a security and legal standpoint, it’s crucial to have special instructions on how certain types of documents have to be managed for compliance. Outline processes—specifically—for how sensitive documents have to be stored, protected, and retrieved.

 

2. Identify the right tools

Once there is a clear, organization-wide document workflow process in place, it’s time to think about getting the right document productivity tools.

Document productivity tools ensure that little time is wasted for storing, converting, and sharing documents. They allow employees to adhere to a centralized document management process easily, without having to identify third-party tools themselves. Company-wide agreement on the tools to use for document management makes for quick and efficient document management. Utilizing board software for document management can streamline the approval process, making it easier for team members to collaborate.

Pertinent questions to ask here include:

1. Is there an agreed-upon file format for document storage?
2. Is there a specified file size?
3. Are there guidelines on how documents will be e-signed?
4. Do files have to be protected for security and compliance purposes?

When you’ve set guidelines for the above, it’s beneficial to identify the right tool that provides these capabilities easily. If you store, edit, and share all your documents as PDF files, it’s worth checking out SmallPDF, widely considered to be the best PDF compressor tool out there.

 

3. Test to iron out any kinks

Implementing a newly-laid out process requires extensive testing. After you’ve laid out your document workflow guidelines, it’s crucial to test it first to identify what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve going forward.

Talk to different teams within the company about the project. Ask them to maintain a project documentation template that tracks aims and objectives, communication between team members, and KPIs during the testing phase.

Once you’ve collated feedback and other information, it’s important to sit down with different stakeholders and identify areas for improvement. Benchmarks that you can use include document lifecycle time, speed of task completion, team member satisfaction, and so on.

Testing gives a clear picture of what has worked and what needs further reinforcement—incorporate this into an updated version of the document management guidelines.

 

4. Provide training

After testing and revising your document workflow management guidelines, it’s imperative to provide extensive training so that they’re implemented properly.

Here, you can give different teams more leeway for how they wish to implement the document workflow guidelines for improved team productivity. Given that members will have different roles within teams, it’s important to lay out how the centralized document management process applies to them individually.

Conduct one-on-one sessions to go through instructions, and prepare internal guides, as well as standard operating procedures during the training process.

5. Ensure a feedback loop

When you finally set out to implement a well-defined document workflow, it helps to start out small.

Start with smaller teams, and work your way up to bigger ones, and eventually to the organization as a whole. Iteration is key here—maintain a strong feedback loop so that you are straightening out the process in bits and pieces along the way.

 

6. Consider automation

One of the easiest ways to optimize document workflow is to consider automating various document-related processes.

Whenever extensive manual effort is spent on document management, you are losing out on time and efficiency. This also takes away from the effort that could be more oriented toward activities that actually make a difference from a business standpoint.

You can automate document processes like the following:

  1. Storing documents instantly after they’re created
  2. Creating a central log to see pertinent info for each document
  3. Updating access permissions as and when they’re shared
  4. Adding protection settings for sensitive documents
  5. Removal of documents based on pre-set conditions

Apart from eliminating tedious manual effort, automation also allows less room for errors to creep in during document management.

 

7. Avoid document clutter

Unused documents that needn’t be archived for security and compliance purposes contribute significantly to organizational chaos. It can create unnecessary confusion, delays in task completion, and lack of certainty in decision-making.

The first step towards avoiding such clutter is to categorize documents based on whether they require archival. Documents are archived if they are sensitive in nature or are necessary for compliance purposes. If they don’t fall into this category—more often than not—documents are just lying there for no particular reason.

Another factor for document clutter is duplicates. When email communication is involved, both internally and externally, documents are shared as attachments. This leads to numerous versions of the same file, and adds to the heap of document waste.

Consider having a timely clean-up process in place so that you’re constantly checking which documents need to be there and which ones don’t. Be mindful that as organizations scale and grow, document clutter can pile up very quickly.

 

8. Practice nesting

Using the concept of nesting for document organization makes your document workflows neat and simple to follow.

Start with larger folders that pertain to broader projects, and add sub-folders for more specific ones. Make sure that there is a logical consistency to how you lay out this structure so that others can easily pull out documents without creating any dependency.

A good way to do this is to start organization-wide, with different teams and departments being the main folders. From hereon, branch out to key projects that each team is working on, and within them sub-projects—include all relevant documents here in an exhaustive manner.

To convey the structure that you decide on as clearly as possible, draw out a document storage diagram. Map out how different teams have to store documents visually—a  visual representation ensures that the workflow is easy to follow.

 

Get more done with efficient document workflow organization

 

Poor document management effectively translates to more organized chaos.

When there are no clearly laid out best practices for how documents should be managed within a company, what suffers is both the quality and quantity of work.

As discussed in the article, organizing your document workflow efficiently can bring more work clarity, quicken decision-making, reduce dependencies, ensure better transparency, and increase cross-team collaboration.

Given these tangible benefits, it’s important that companies invest the time and effort required to better their document management practices.

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