SharePoint Online Document Management Best Practices

Once upon a time, document storage seemed logical and simple… Especially, when you create your own methods by which you store and archive your files—not really. Everything made perfect sense because you operated in your own world—so untrue. You knew exactly where you put things every time, on the dime—when did this ever happen? Well, times have changed. Culturally, we have migrated to a more collaborative work environment that invokes teamwork, accountability, and transparency. Consequently, as we moved into the collaborative space, our technology had to evolve with us; thus, SharePoint was born. The name became a beacon, a focal “point” where we can “share” files, collectively draft documents, set document-level permissions and document versioning, archive, and store, automate business functions, assign metadata for easy searchability, and ultimately—most importantly—streamline our business processes.

It all sounds good and there’s a growing consensus in the board meetings, “let’s launch our business into the cloud!” Some jump in excitement and a few push away from the table. This article is for the ones jumping in glee; those who push away respect the robustness of the tool, shiver from the terror in the greater extension of trust in peers and confronted with the fear of losing control. In my experience, I noticed, those who are truly excited may have either had some previous experience in SharePoint or feel as if they have a firm understanding of the tool—this statement may well be translated into “bad habits.”

If an organization decides to implement SharePoint Online and O365, a firm Standard Operating Data Storage Procedure for files and end-user training need to be enforced to better guarantee continuity across the organization.. But who is going to draft the guidelines for an organization to ensure best practices? Luckily, Microsoft understands that not everyone using their tools will be engineers and therefore have identified general best practices for document storage and data retention. The details behind the 10 best practices for data and document management in SharePoint, can be found here. The MS article addresses SharePoint Server, but the fundamentals of document management in SharePoint remain static across all platforms.

Nonetheless, the purpose of this discussion is to provide a very high-level understanding of the five primary Doc Management Best Practices: Versioning, Column Indexing, Application of Metadata, Defined Naming Conventions and lastly, Content Classification.


Versioning is one of the most vital characteristics to document management policies as it ensures that the document history is maintained in a logical manner. Versioning also provides a means to revert documents to previous versions and time stamps for personnel accountability. This feature, if leveraged correctly, will remedy the “terror in the greater extension of trust in peers” that exists amongst the cautious.

Column Indexing

Secondly, column indexing—making the most out of your lists and libraries. Indexing columns is a method that maintains the functionality and integrity of your libraries where mass document storage is the case. When applied, column indexing is the only feature that will allow for the bypass of the item threshold limit. On libraries and lists of 5,000 items or more, performance begins to degrade as SharePoint is attempting to analyze the data—column indexing manages the analyzation and maintains the performance level as if the library is still within the item threshold limit. This method proves those afraid of the vast capabilities have nothing to fear…there are things in place to protect your data.

Metadata Tagging

Metadata tagging is a characteristic of doc management that controls how your documents and data are returned in search results. Adding metadata properties or tags to your documents creates an environment that is easily searchable and readable as it acts as a logic standardization method for SharePoint to search and display data. When leveraged, this practice promotes and enforces users to save the data and documents in a logical manner eliminating the use of folders within a filing system. Folders are becoming more and more obsolete as metadata practices are being defined and continue to grow—preventing the misfiling of documents and above all NESTED FOLDERS AND FILES. Finally, everyone will be able to search and find their respective documents and data utilizing the same methods and approach to locating the file.

Naming Convention

Next, is the defined naming convention characteristic. A defined naming convention enforces logic, navigability, and adherence to a standard document storage procedure for your users. If a naming convention is applied, users in your environment will have collaborative continuity and the system will ultimately become more intuitive, specified to your organization’s needs.. This method provides a sense of control in its logic for housing and ownership of documents and data. When the naming convention is implemented, users will know the exact location of the source due to the logic applied to the convention.


Lastly, classify your documents and store them accordingly. One of the worst habits in the SharePoint realm is the storage and maintenance of multiple file types within a single library or list. This would be a “worst practice” regarding data storage, logic, and navigability of files within your environment. Content should be siloed with like content. By doing so, your environment will maintain the logic needed for your users to “blindly” locate their files and data. Users should be able to locate files without having to guess which library is housing the item. Sure, search works, but what if a user saves the same document in two different locations? This creates a breakdown in all of the aforementioned best practices. Thus, one could say that this is the MOST vital best practice applied to data and doc management—it is the most fundamental and logical, yet most violated, best practice for SharePoint Document Management.

Final Thoughts

In sum, the fundamentals of document management truly have not changed, yet how we leverage data and document characteristics within SharePoint defines how well indexed and ordered our data and documents truly are. So if one applies versioning, creates Column Indices, tags metadata, defines a naming convention and classifies file types into respective doc libraries, then those fearing the “move to the cloud” will be more at ease, your environment will be more of use than a hindrance and the users who are jumping at the chance for a new system (you know, the ones with the bad habits), will be forced to conform to the best practices.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we understand that your business is unique and won’t fit a pre-determined mold. If you need additional assistance with Microsoft Flow or just want to learn more about SharePoint, give us a call at 833-827-4275 or contact us here.

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