Businesses have been talking about ‘going paperless’ since the early 2000s, yet most offices still need physical file storage for storing papers. There is something oddly reassuring about having physical copies of important documents, and some people really struggle to read documents set out on a screen, so it’s likely that at least some paperwork is set to stay indefinitely.
If you’re tasked with organising the document storage for your office, here are our tips on how to do so efficiently, securely, and cost-effectively.
1. Be confident about how long paperwork must be stored.
There are rules about how long documents should be stored, depending on what the documents are, and on the nature of your business. If you’re a sole trader or limited company, we have some useful information and links about this on our business archive storage page
2. Shred, recycle or store any old paperwork.
Duplicates and outdated documents that no longer need to be retained can be disposed of so they don’t clutter up your office file storage space. If you’re worried about getting rid of something important, you could scan the paperwork and store it in your cloud storage before disposing of the original.
If you’re not quite there with online storage and want to focus on scanning more modern documents first, you could always move your old files into archive storage boxes.
Clearly label each file with the client/file type/subject, and label each box with the year it’s stored. To save a lot of hunting around later, make a note on the lid of which files are stored inside.
If you don’t have room in your office’s file storage area to store archive boxes, consider renting archive storage space at one of our self storage stores to keep them safe and dry.
3. Organise your file storage.
Colour coding your files can also make it a lot easier to find files at a glance - choose a different colour for each type of contract, client, or funding arrangement, for example.
Within each file, ensure that file dividers make it easy to find relevant sections, e.g. invoice, correspondence, court orders, contracts etc.
4. Label files clearly before storing papers.
Once a file is organised properly, ensure that it is clearly labelled in a standard format, so every file can be identified at a glance. This is very useful when there are dozens or hundreds of files lined up on a shelf or stored in a filing cabinet!
If using a filing cabinet for your document storage, you could colour code your suspension files, and alternate the spacing of the suspension file labels so that they can all be seen clearly.
5. Agree a system for storing large items.
If there are large items (such as plans, drawings, sample materials etc) that cannot be stored in a file, agree within the office as to where to store those larger items. If there are a lot of these items and you don’t need them on a frequent basis, you could move them into a small self storage unit for a few pounds a week.
Whatever you do, make sure you make a note in each file of any other documents or items that belong to it, and where they are kept.
6. Agree a system for scanning paperwork.
You could agree that from a particular date, all new paperwork will be scanned and filed online. It’s very important to choose a standardised system for naming online files so that they can be found and added to at a later date.
Once new files are routinely being stored online, you could start the task of converting your past file storage to being online. You could do this year by year, working back from last year to your oldest files, or from your oldest files up to the point at which new work began to be scanned.
If you really need to keep physical copies of documents in storage, you could then safely archive these in a self storage unit to free up space in your office. If anyone needs the originals, they’ll be easily able to access them if they’re labelled properly, and otherwise everyone will be able to access scanned copies online.
7. Choose a safe storage space
Paperwork is prone to damage when exposed to the elements, damp or pests. Ensure that wherever you keep your files, they are kept off the floor (damp can seep through concrete) and that there are adequate pest control and fire alarm procedures in place. Our self storage stores are all monitored by CCTV and fire alarm systems, with pest control measures in place, and all units are indoors so they’re protected from the elements.
8. Store completed work separately
Once a file has been completed, you can box it up and store it safely with your archives. Organise your archives in date order, so that more recent boxes can be accessed more easily - just in case anything in one of your completed files needs to be changed or checked.
If using external file storage (such as a self storage unit), place older files furthest from the door or at the back of your shelves so that newer files can be brought out without having to move a lot of boxes.
9. Keep on top of future filing
There’s very little point in spending all that time organising your old documents and files if new ones are allowed to build up on desks and in drawers. Ensure that the whole team is onboard with the need to keep filing up to date - maybe allocate a ‘file storage’ hour each week - and make the filing system for ongoing work easy to use and accessible to everyone.
Organising your office file storage - particularly if you’re starting the process of scanning files to store digitally - will take time. It’s a job worth doing well, because if you can’t find a file later due to a filing error you’re going to find it impossible to rectify the problem.
Hopefully, these tips will have given you a bit of inspiration to tackle your office file storage system, and will make it so much easier to find what you need in future.