A filing system is developed by a good plan. Planning establishes direction and control it also ensures that everyone involved has a common understanding of purpose, goals and provides guidelines.
One person should be assigned the task for developing and coordinating a new filing system. This task usually falls to the person that is responsible for the documents. This may include Administration, Payroll/Financial Managers or Human Resource Manager. However there must be a “Gatekeeper” to control access to the information contained in the files. The Gatekeeper may implement the system or may supervise others in its implementation.
The first step in developing or improving a filing system is to gain the support of the staff that will use the system. The support will legitimize the system and ensure the cooperation of all the office staff.
Every member of the office must understand the purpose and scope of the project. Everyone should be involved in the process. The creator of a file may provide important insight useful during the analysis of the records. Office members can help determine which features or aspects of the present system work well and should be retained. Office members can also help identify specific problems within the present system that must be changed. Most importantly, involving others in the process makes them more amenable to using the system once it is implemented.
Once files have been inventoried, they can be analyzed. Before a filing system can be designed, a thorough understanding of WHAT files are created, WHY they are created and HOW they are used is a necessity. An analysis begins with a careful consideration of the following questions:
There are no set answers to these questions. Effective analysis requires that a common-sense approach be taken. The goal is to make a new system work, not just look good on paper. Analysis is the process of reviewing all information which has been collected, manipulating that information within the functional and operational requirements of the office, and then drawing conclusions.
The most efficient and economical filing system is one that works well for the office and is easily understood by its users. Very often the simplest method is best. Final factors to bear in mind when establishing a filing system: ready identification and retrieval of individual files.
Classification is a tool of analysis. It is a method of sorting information into like groups. Identifying classification within the office and sorting files identified is the first step in the development of a filing system.
The file classifications that are found in most offices are:
A major consideration in the development of a filing system is the retention of the files. Retention schedules clearly state how long a file must legally be kept and whether the file is archival. Retention schedules also provide guidelines for moving files to inactive storage and for purging obsolete files.
Although correspondence may comprise only a small percentage of the total volume of files, it poses the most problems for many offices. Correspondence consists of unique documents which are often difficult to classify.
Correspondence may consist of incoming and/or outgoing letters and memoranda. Classically, correspondence has been filed in chronological order. Retrieval depended on remembering the date of receipt or of transmittal. For many people this is very difficult. Information is rarely retrieved on the basis of occurrence.
Email is similar to correspondence in many ways. Emails are sent or received based on date and time, not on content. This is one of the characteristics that make email so difficult to manage. Each email is different than the one sent before and will be different than the email sent after. Managing emails by date is rarely effective. Like correspondence, it is much easier to manage emails based on content or creator.
Information is most commonly retrieved on the basis of content or creator. It is, therefore, most logical to file correspondence or email either by subject (with related information); by creator; by department from which it is received; or by department to which it is directed. It must be kept in mind that each office function is different, and it is necessary to tailor the management of correspondence files and email to respond to individual requirements.
Once the analysis is complete, a filing system can be developed. A filing system should be developed on paper before it is physically implemented. Folders should be sorted, on paper, into the appropriate classification. Within each classification files are sorted. Information without a specific retention period can be destroyed or should be managed separately. Unsolicited material can be destroyed.
Within each individual file they are arranged in an order best suited for rapid retrieval and disposition. The most common arrangements are:
There is no easy way to implement a new filing system. It is a very labor intensive task. If at all possible, it is recommended that the filing system be implemented in stages, by classification–one file at a time.
Steps in the implementation process include:
After a test period meet with users to identify problems. Work with users to resolve inconsistencies and formulate implementable solutions.
Written filing policies and procedures are useful tools which help ensure the success of the new system.
Written policies should include:
Written policies help ensure that the new system will be understood by all and will succeed.
Although many of the files we currently create may be electronic, we will always have to cope with paper files. This section includes basic information regarding the maintenance of active files.
Information on the sign-out sheet should include:
For convenience keep several sign out sheets in the front of each file drawer or on top of each file cabinet. For greater convenience, sign out sheets can be personalized for individual users. Sign out sheets personalized for an individual need only contain file folder title, date charged out, and date returned. (Appendix~1.0 Sample Sign-Out Sheet)
After determining a filing system for managing your paper records, it is important to choose appropriate supplies.
Hanging folders are used to bring order to a drawer. They are effective only when used in the right circumstance. As hanging folders take up 1/3 of the available drawer space, they should be used only for files with high retrieval activity.
Labels are used to facilitate identification of a folder and its contents. Visibility on the folder and use as a visual retrieval aid should be major considerations when choosing labels.
Color coding is a method of identifying file folders within a filing system. Color, when used appropriately, can make misfiles visible at a glance, facilitate retrieval, and facilitate weeding and purging. Color is used as a visual aid to highlight a record series or the date. It can also be used to highlight a specific folder.
For files, identification and labeling allows an office to maintain physical control over current files as well as manage growth of new files. When working with files two levels of file identification and labeling help simplify and facilitate filing and retrieval:
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