Your bank is trying to get you to do it. And so is your insurance company. It sometimes feels like the whole world is trying to save trees (a good thing) and trying to get you more organized by making documentation virtual. But virtual documents are no more helpful than packets of real paper if you don't do it right — and can be one of the pros and cons of working from home.
Here are 5 mistakes that many people make with virtual documentation and how to fix them by storing documents the 2014 way.
Mistake 1: Not storing documents in the cloud
What happens when documents don't live in the cloud? They die with old hard drives. They're accidentally deleted from personal computers. You can't access them once you leave the office.
If you save work-related documents in a cloud software such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box then your important documents won't be dependent on the existence of your computer. If your hard drive crashes, your documents live on. If you leave the office but suddenly need to look at that customer-related file, you can check it from your phone. Putting documents in the cloud means your work belongs to you, not to your computer.
Cloud Storage Suggestions: Google Drive, Dropbox, Box
Mistake 2: Exchanging documents through email
Manually attaching a document to an email leads to a host of problems: the file size is too large, the email gets lost in the recipient's inbox, old file versions can't be deleted out of inboxes and people still reference them after they're outdated.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with keeping files in the cloud. Sharing documents online is easier than ever, so there is no reason to resort to email exchanges. Instead, give your colleagues links to easily-updated, cloud-hosted files and avoid all those email challenges.
Mistake 3: No standard file organization methods
Just because your documentation is virtual doesn't mean you stop worrying about where your files are stored. Virtual documents are just as easily lost as slips of paper. Virtual files are slightly easier to find if you're willing to put in the search-and-rescue work, but you can prevent wasting that time altogether with a little bit of planning.
Set up a logical folder structure to store documents (e.g. a "Customer-facing" folder split into subfolders for specific types of files), and make sure everyone knows how to navigate them. If only one person understands how to document everything correctly, files will still get lost. Creating a standard method of organizing files — and teaching everyone those standards — means you won't worry about losing your customer NDAs.
Software Suggestion: help you store and organize your files into project folders
Mistake 4: Process documents aren't immediately updated
If you're part of a company that doesn't document processes, this point may not apply. But for companies that document workflow and development processes, failing to properly implement change management can trip you up.
When processes change, updating the relevant documents must happen concurrently. People responsible for maintaining documents should be involved with process update meetings from day one. As soon as final decisions are made, those documents need to reflect the new changes before the decision is officially rolled out to the company.
Mistake 5: Old versions of documents aren't deleted
Are you a file packrat? When documents become outdated, they either need to be replaced or deleted completely. Leaving old documents in your cloud storage or project management tool creates room for mistakes. People will inevitably reference old versions of your file and make mistakes based on outdated knowledge.
If you need to be able to reference old versions, can track document changes or allow you to version your documents. You'll be able to keep previous versions around for reference and simultaneously understand which file is the most recent.
Use cloud file-storage or project management storage for better virtual documentation
What other virtual documentation mistakes has your team made, and how did you fix them? Teach everyone a new thing or two in the comments.