If your organization requires people to upload files to SharePoint or another repository, you’ve probably had someone ask “Will anyone ever read these?”

And the inconvenient truth is that, in all likelihood, nobody else will.  According to a University of California study:

  • 95% of files in cloud / network shares are opened fewer than five times
  • 66% of files are only opened once or never
  • Only 24% of files are opened by more than one user
  • Less than 1% of files have 100K+ opens, and these represent 7% of all opens
  • 1% of users account for 50% of total file opens

So, if the vast majority of files we upload will never be read by anyone else, what does this mean for how people allocate time and effort for file management?  Here are some observations, and tips for saving time and effort:  

  • Identify your critical 1% of highly in-demand files, and keep them neatly tagged in a central library.   Your team probably knows what information is most in demand.  So if everybody wants to read the latest quarterly XYZ report as soon as it’s uploaded, make sure those are uploaded to a single, centralized document library and neatly tagged with relevant metadata so people can locate the specific document they’re looking for by filtering (as opposed to digging through a labyrinth of folders and subfolders).

  • Let individuals and teams manage the 76% of files nobody else cares about any way they like.  Sometimes when an organization implements SharePoint, OneDrive or a similar solution, they have lofty dreams of every user and every team keeping their files in neatly organized folders.  But while there are legitimate use cases where you want to dictate how teams manage their files (e.g., case-related files at a law firm or patient records at a healthcare system), micromanaging people’s day-to-day file management can cause teammates to start ignoring your guidelines or – worse – spark an uprising where people complain to the C-Suite about your unreasonable expectations.   

    To avoid this, just set the expectation that personal or team files should be uploaded to a specific, publicly-accessible folder or library (i.e., not people’s personal hard drives).  As long as you have a general idea of where the treasure is buried, you can save the effort of digging up files and tagging them until an outside party requests it.

  • Have a “just in time” process for quickly fulfilling information requests.  Nothing drains your team’s enthusiasm for rolling out a new intranet or file management system faster than asking people to upload all of their old legacy files to the new platform.  So if you have to migrate a massive volume of files, instead of having team members sort and tag everything “just in case”, start by having team members move their most current and in-demand files to the appropriate libraries / folders, then have a big “cold storage” library / folder where people can dump their old stuff.  Then you can wait to hunt down legacy files until somebody asks for them, and / or dedicate an hour or two each week to proactively digging through the archives and transferring whatever files your 1% of power users will likely need to the new, centralized library.  

    Also consider setting up a “ticket” system for information requests, so your team can keep track of the most in-demand types of information, to help prioritize your efforts.

Hopefully this article offered some useful ideas for sanity-checking document management.  If you’ve found other strategies that worked for your organization, or have questions about a more complex use case, we’d love to hear from you.