It is common for businesses to struggle with filing documents. As your business grows and documents pile up, it may take time to retrieve your files especially when you don’t have a good filing system in place. Not to mention the loss of productivity and the risk to security and privacy of information that the lack of organised filing can cause.
Here are four ways to conquer business records filing challenges.
Give your information structure
The first important step to conquering filing challenges is organising your paperwork with a filing structure – keeping in mind that the end goal is to select an approach that will allow you to search and retrieve records quickly.
In developing a filing structure, consider sorting records according to priority, how often these records would need to be accessed and by whom. You need to decide as well where these records will be located and the person who will be responsible for maintaining them.
There are various ways to organise your business records: chronological, numeric, alphabetical, alpha-numeric. You may also assign series codes to group records of the same classification together.
Remember to keep your structure simple. The less layers and complexity of your structure the better. If you need to, map out your business information headings and see what patterns emerge. You should not need to go any further than 3-4 levels into a filing structure for small businesses.
Reinforce using a shared system with team
It is important that the company adopts a filing structure to be used by everyone rather than each having their own structures and keeping documents to themselves. Ensure that the system is simple enough for everyone to understand and be comfortable with. This is also why a simple structure is important.
You may have to assign a person who would be responsible for developing, coordinating and implementing the filing system. However, you also need to make sure that everyone gets involved in the process, as each may contribute valuable insights as to the importance, features, and challenges in creating, maintaining and accessing these records.
Cleaning / archiving / destruction
In the UK, six years plus the current year is the standard retention period for HMRC records. This ensures that these documents will be accessible in case of legal disputes. Conversely, keeping business records longer than the statutory retention period may have legal implications, especially if your records contain sensitive information, unless you can show justifiable reasons to do so (i.e. in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes, or statistical purposes).
Destruction of business records may be done when you no longer need them, the statutory retention period has passed and if you already have an electronic backup — provided that these records do not relate directly to the company, clients, or employee information. Keep in mind though, that there are certain records that you need to retain original copies of, such as documents evidencing that tax has been deducted.
Don’t expect others to understand how you think
Everyone will think differently about how to file. Thus, it is important that the new filing system is simple enough for the team to understand and follow. Prior to implementing a filing structure, ensure that you have clear guidelines as to what documents to file, how to file, where to store them, version control and who has permission to access these documents.
Lastly, make sure that you monitor its implementation regularly and that you have a follow-up and revision system in place, to ensure that guidelines are followed and issues are promptly fixed.
Disclaimer: The information shared in this article is not meant to represent legal advice. Please contact a legal expert for any questions or clarifications.