FAQ small business
office folders

Key factors when setting up a folder structure

When we are setting up new servers for our clients, we will often have to setup file shares and copy existing files from their old systems.  We typically get asked to tidy up folders or recommend a structure for clients to follow. 

The structure often depends how the company is structured and how many staff use the servers and who needs to access the data.

Why structure your files & folders?

File management dates back before computers were used in offices and companies used binders or filing cabinets. 

If you had one share or folder you stored everything in, then it can quickly become a mess and without knowing who the files belonged to or what they related to.  If files relate to HR, then typically they should only be access by the HR department or management.  Being able to restrict access to files is also critical in the protection against malware and encryption attacks.   See Principle of Least Privilege.

You should set goals by asking the following:

  • Who needs to understand the file organisation system?  Not everyone is technical so making the structure simple is usually recommended.
  • When will you start and how much time will you spend?  If you have many files that need to be organised then, it can take time to open and check each file.
  • How will you know you have succeeded?   Is the purpose to speed up finding files? How can you test?

Getting input from your team:

Depending upon the size of your company, number of staff and departments, the file/folder structure may suit one department but not another. 

For example: Accounts may need a different set of folders than HR.  By getting input from the staff, you will probably have less resistance to change, and the staff will use the structure rather than doing their own thing.

Should you start from scratch?

We are not suggesting deleting everything, but we have seen hundreds of businesses where staff have many files that nobody touches once the client projects are completed. 

Apart from finance records that often need to be kept for 7 years or more for accounting purposes.  

If you start with a clean slate and archive everything else, then this can save a lot of time organising the files.

How to structure your folders?

Many businesses will structure files by department, team, roles.  This can help with the initial folders structure as well as providing a good start for access permissions.  However, you can also structure by Name, Date and Project.  We often find that most businesses benefit with a combination of two the structures.  

Organising by Department

If you have several teams or departments within the business, then this can be simple and easy to locate files when you need them.  However, it can be confusing if multiple departments collaborate on some projects.

Organising by Name

Organising by Name can be used in conjunction with departments structure if you have multiple clients who you work for and everything relating would be stored under their name. 

If the company changes their name, then this may need a link or shortcut to the old company’s name.

Organising by Date

Organising by Date is generally used for financial services businesses as this will allow storage of large amounts of files tied to the time.  You may store by year end or quarter, but it can be hard to locate specific project information.

Organising by Project

Organisations with lots of cross-departmental collaborations find these work well. 

Typically, each project will have a folder structure template that everyone knows and allows each team to locate and store their files effectively. 

Setting up a file naming convention

Long ago we were once restricted to 8.3-character (filename.doc) naming convention for files that made naming files difficult, this was replaced with the long file name from windows 95 which allowed 255 characters including non-alphanumeric characters.  As a result, you can include some of the structure into the file name to help locate it in future. 

If you are organising by Date and department project, you may structure the name:

2021-12-01_Marketing_Christmas_Opening_version_1.1.DOC

2021-12-01_Marketing_Christmas_Opening_version_1.0.JPG

If you are organising by Department & Project Name, you may structure the name:

Marketing_Christmas_Opening_2021_Ad_version_1.1.DOC

Marketing_Christmas_Opening_2021_Ad_version_1.0.JPG

Using Version control

As you can see from the examples above, the filename has a version included in the filename, this helps if you are sending the files to a client as a pdf and allows you to ensure you are sending the latest version of the file. 

If you are using a Word processor such as Microsoft Word, then enabling track changes will allow you to record everyone’s edits.

You may also want to store various states of the file, such as draft, client-edit, revision1, revision2 and final. 

If you are getting the client to sign off on the document this may also be stored in PDF or scanned image formats (JPG, PNG).

Securing files and folders

Permissions on shares, folders and files can be confusing and frustrating for some however, as we mentioned earlier, preventing unauthorised access to business information or personal information is critical for most businesses.

Typically, each department will need to see their own files and there will often be a level of management who may need to see multiple departments. 

We also recommend that senior management or directors have a separate hidden share and folder structure, so it is not accessible normally.

  • Users are placed in Groups
  • Permissions are applied to Groups
  • No permissions are applied individually. 

Managers may need read/write to files while a contractor may only need read-only to some files such as a plan or diagram.

This will help ensure your files are protected and your folders can be maintained.

Working with SharePoint/Teams files

Although most of this article relates to shared folder structures, the same planning should be considered when using SharePoint and Teams. 

Teams automatically will create a SharePoint folder for each team.  You should also be aware that if you rename the Team the SharePoint folder will not be renamed.  This can cause some issues when you are trying to locate files within SharePoint in the future.

Microsoft are continuously developing Teams so this may change in the future.

Should you need further assistance with setting up a new server or folder structure to suit your business then please contact us.