Document_Sharing_body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Plenty of services let you share documents online. How can you keep your staff on the same page while using them?


It’s one of the modern wonders of the Internet—more than one person in more than one place all working together on one file. Cloud computing has enabled on-the-go users to make a change on an office laptop that can simultaneously appear via an app on a smartphone.


Yet this marvel of synchronicity can also mean utter chaos if a business doesn’t establish rules for how to use the technology. How can you get everyone to collaborate on file sync and share platforms in some semblance of harmony? Here are a few things to consider:


Safety first

Nonstop headlines about hackers and surveillance have made data protection a top concern among even casual users. While some may be able to live with the risks that come with free or inexpensive cloud-based services, most clients can’t. Handling classified material, market-moving financial data, sensitive legal or health records, or anything a competitor could benefit from demands reliable security. You’ll need a sharing system that can pass a security compliance audit, allow control over who sees what information, and an ability to revoke access from any user or a device that’s gone missing.


A few options: nCrypted Cloud has an enterprise product that works as a privacy layer to cloak the most popular services and keeps work environments intact. Or there’s the new Intralinks VIA, a secure environment from the file-sharing market leader that’s aimed at businesses of all sizes. (One cool feature: the UNshare button, which can make a document disappear, even those that have been downloaded, via digital rights management.) Whatever you decide, pick one platform and stick with it: Utilizing too many sharing systems is bound to be confusing for clients and staffers.


Set rules of engagement

Technically speaking, many experts warn users to not edit or write directly in Dropbox or Box or Google Drive and the like. Doing so creates havoc with various parallel versions in use at the same time. To keep everyone in line, create an operations manual, including a flowchart or outline of the filing hierarchy, explicit conventions for each level of the filing system, and instructions on how to safely use applications. If staffers or clients have access to a live system, warn that edits or deletions are permanent.


Thursday Bram, a writer, editor, and founder of Portland, Ore.-based Hyper Modern Consulting, says her group writes out workflows for each project and requires everyone involved to sign off on the steps necessary to complete each project. This makes it easier for team members across the country to stay up to speed. Bram’s rule for the comments connected to each file: Keep discussion of each document tied to that document only.


Enforce naming conventions

Your document repository will quickly become confusing if you don’t ensure both directories and documents are named in a commonly understood way. “You can make document management as simple or as elaborate as your group requires, though simpler is often better,” says Dara Young, a computer systems configuration specialist in Southern California. “Each organization must identify what works best for their needs.”



Using the date of creation? That information might not matter so much a month or a year down the road. Best practices include using a labeling system that mirrors your process and keeps file names consistent and easily searchable. Much depends on the size of the group with access to the documents. One simple prefix system: Draft; Ready For Comments (RFC); Ready For Approval (RFA); Approved. Young is an advocate of numbering versions if there’s no software feature to track a history of changes. For example, a method that utilizes a decimal (such as 1.0, 2.1, 6.12, etc.) is often helpful. The first digit could indicate a major change, reworking, or publication of the document. The second and third digit would reflect minor or administrative changes.


Other advice: Name folders after clients, and be sure to keep external and internal documents in separate files. Whatever you decide, make sure outside collaborators or clients are crystal-clear on which file is the most up-to-date—to avoid losing precious time in older or outdated versions.


But mostly, the best guidance starts off-line, collaborating to make everyone happy. “A lot comes down to the ability to discuss the qualities of your platform with your client,” she says. “We’ve seen long-outdated constraints written by people who aren’t exactly tech-savvy, so we work with them to understand our process. There’s not a lot carved in stone for this right now.”