Digital file management best practices

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Navigating disorganized folders and files is time-consuming and counterproductive. In fact, 58% of US office workers report that finding files and documents is one of the top problems they face.

To break free from this cycle of frustration and increase productivity, you need an efficient system to manage and organize digital files. Following digital file management best practices ensures that you focus on important tasks rather than spending your time searching for elusive documents.

What is digital file management?

Digital file management is the systematic process of organizing, storing, accessing, and maintaining files within a computer system or network. It involves using tools and established practices to efficiently handle digital information, ensuring users easily access and search files.

The market size of electronic document management systems — a significant subset of file management — is expected to reach $9.8 billion by 2027, per 360 Research Reports. This expected growth of 14.47% CAGR underscores the increasing importance of digital file organization that enables users to find exactly what they need, when they need it.

Why you should organize digital files

IDC reports that 39% of employees struggle to find data or documents, hindering their productivity. 

Statistics indicating that 39% of employees struggle to find the documents they need

Adopting a digital file management system reduces efficiency hurdles while enabling people to access documents from any device.

Let’s review the key benefits of digital file organization and management.

  • Enhanced productivity: Well-organized electronic files are quicker to find and retrieve, reducing the time spent searching for them. You focus on tasks that contribute directly to your work objectives, rather than navigating a chaotic digital landscape.
  • Improved communication and collaboration: According to a report from Axios HQ, ineffective communication costs almost $2 trillion annually in the US alone. With the secure collaboration features of cloud-based file management software, you access, edit, and share documents from any device or location — fostering real-time communication.
  • Effective resource utilization: A digital file organization system helps prevent redundancies. When you can easily find existing files, you’re less likely to create duplicates, preventing the unnecessary consumption of storage space and reducing confusion regarding which version is the most current.
  • Increased security and compliance: A centralized digital file management system acts as a single, secure vault for your data, reducing the risk of data sprawl and making it easier to enforce protection measures uniformly. Version control features enable you to track changes, which helps maintain accurate records and ensure compliance with industry regulations. 
Benefits of digital file management

How to organize digital files

The key to effective digital file management is selecting a structured and organized approach, communicating it clearly to everyone in your organization, and implementing it consistently. 

We’ve put together the top digital file organization best practices for you to follow.

  1. Create a folder structure

Start by creating top-level folders for major categories or departments within the organization. Examples might include “Finance,” “Marketing,” “HR,” or “Projects.” 

Within each main category, create sub-folders based on specific projects or dates. For instance, in a marketing department, broad categories might include “Campaigns,” “Social media,” “Design assets,” and “Reports.” This categorization helps in further organizing files based on ongoing activities or specific areas of focus. 

The ideal file and folder structure strategy will depend on your needs. For instance, a creative marketing agency might use “projects” as sub-folder categories, while a legal firm could focus on “Case dates” to categorize folders. 

  1. Follow a naming convention for your files and folders

Include relevant information in file names, such as date, project name, or category, to provide context at a glance. Names that accurately describe the content inside the file make it easier for anyone to understand a document’s purpose without opening it.

Ideally, the naming convention remains uniform across the organization. However, in large companies, it might be difficult to follow a uniform naming style. To alleviate this burden, the best document management solutions offer AI-powered search features to help you find files even if you don’t remember the names of those files.

  1. Establish a version control system 

If you’re working on a file that requires feedback from multiple stakeholders, you’ve probably been confused by convoluted file names (take “Final_ReallyFinal_2.doc” or “ThisFinalOne.doc,” for example). 

If you opt for the manual approach of creating a different file after every iteration, you’ll end up with multiple documents like:

  • First draft: clientproject_writerdraft.doc
  • Revision from editor: clientproject_editorfeedback.doc
  • Revisions from client: clientproject_clientedits.doc
  • Implementing revisions: clientproject_revision1.doc, revision2, revision3

This division of files causes confusion, especially when collaborating on documents with multiple coworkers. It gets difficult to determine which file is the latest version, increasing the risk of working on an outdated document.

With digital file management software that tracks changes, everyone collaborates in real time and there’s no confusion about which file is the latest one. This approach also saves storage space.

  1. Make digital copies of physical documents

Even if you’re a digital-first company, you might still deal with physical documents like invoices, contracts, or receipts. By digitizing these physical documents, you leverage the long-term accessibility, security, and collaboration potential of your files.

Use document scanners to convert physical documents into digital formats and save them in applicable formats like PDF or JPEG. If your digital file management system offers optical character recognition (OCR) technology, you can search for text within the scanned image or search for the scanned document using keywords. 

  1. Limit access to confidential files 

According to a Verizon study, 82% of all leaks and breaches happen because of human error. If every employee in your organization can access any file, it increases the potential for security threats, errors, misuse, or unintentional exposure of confidential information. 

Enhance security and compliance for file management with:

  • Roles and permissions: Use role-based access control (RBAC) to ensure users only access files necessary for their specific tasks
  • User authentication: Implement factors like SMS codes, authenticator apps, or biometric verification to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all users accessing confidential files 
  • Strong password policies: Implement complex password requirements with a mix of characters, enforce regular password changes, and prompt users to update passwords regularly
  • Encryption: Implement and securely store the encryption keys for files, both in transit and at rest, so that even if someone gains unauthorized access, they cannot decipher files
  1. Declutter your files

Implement data lifecycle management policies so you can review which files are duplicates, obsolete drafts, or items that serve no purpose.

Cloud-based file management systems offer archiving features to move old files to a separate section, retaining them for future reference. With these systems, you define clear data retention policies to comply with industry regulations, legal requirements, and business needs.

  1. Regularly back up your files

Backing up files is one of the fundamental file management tips. Unexpected events like hardware failures, system crashes, or cyberattacks can lead to data loss. Regular backups are a safety net, ensuring that, even if files are lost, you can restore a recent copy.

Use cloud backup services to store copies of your documents, photos, videos, and presentations. These platforms offer secure offsite storage, reduce data redundancy, protect against data loss due to hardware failures or accidental deletions, and enable easy access across multiple devices.

  1. Deploy a cloud-based file management system

With a cloud-based  document management software, you store, organize, edit, and share documents in a centralized location. Look for services that align with your organization’s requirements, budget, and long-term objectives. Ensure that the chosen solution supports real-time collaboration, version control, cloud backup, and secure file sharing.

Discover how to implement a cloud document management system.

Organize your digital files with Box

Box makes it easier for you to follow digital file management best practices. 

From finding and organizing to editing, sharing, signing, storing, and classifying documents, the Content Cloud centralizes your files on a secure, all-inclusive platform. With Box Relay, you automate your document workflows — from file rerouting to a streamlined e-signature process with Box Sign. And Box AI helps you get the most out of your files, whether it’s improving your documents or answering all your questions about your content.

Looking for a better way to manage your digital files? Learn how we can help.

Call to action to contact Box to manage digital files in the cloud

While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blog post is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.

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