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Almost all of us are guilty of neglecting to properly organize our work files and documents from time to time. Be that paperwork on our desks, or the myriad of files that so often fill our desktops, keeping things organized is hard. On a personal level, this situation can be frustrating. For many businesses, a lack of organization can cost time and money, holding back productivity and innovation.

Office 365 and SharePoint are fantastic platforms with which to solve these sorts of problems, but capable as they are, they require some configuration - especially when it comes to how to store files, documents and data.

On a high level, you effectively have two options for managing all this data. One option is to store company information in one or two large ‘containers’ in SharePoint, where everyone can search for documents – while putting up with the fact that this can feel a little messy and disorganized. Alternatively, you can break company information down into lots of smaller ‘containers’ – perhaps a separate SharePoint library for each department – or even each sub-team within the department. In the rest of this post, we’ll explore both possibilities and how they can affect the efficiency of document retrieval in SharePoint.

The large container approach

The large container approach has the advantage of giving you a single place where all documents can be found. This means you avoid situations where someone is looking for a file in a library, yet are effectively wasting their time because the file simple isn’t in that library. However, for the ‘large container’ approach to work, you need a very consistent application of metadata.

‘Data describing data’ - metadata serves as an information label and is critical to finding your documents easily in SharePoint. A documents or any piece of content can have multiple metadata labels used to identify it, including:

  • Document purpose
  • Document author
  • Date of creation/last modified date
  • As many custom metadata tags as you wish to add

In the ‘large container’ approach, the quality and effectiveness of search then becomes reliant on you and your employees’ use of metadata. However, this doesn’t mean you should simply tag your documents with as many metadata labels as possible. Users filter their search results based on metadata, but confusion can arise if there are slight differences between users. For example, if one user filters by ‘Human Resources’ while another filters by ‘HR’, they will attain different results, even if they’re searching for the same document.

Therefore, it is important to encourage a consistent use of metadata across your organization. When the content across sites in an organization has consistent metadata, it becomes much easier to find business information and data through the use of search.

The multiple container approach

The ‘multiple container’ approach attempts to avoid the typical problems of big containers. Each ‘container’ only holds a small number of documents, meaning there is much less dependency on having a highly ordered and detailed metadata protocol. Often, all documents can be seen on just one or two pages, meaning it’s easy simply to scroll through and find the document you’re looking for.

Since SharePoint began, libraries have served as shared locations for teams to get work done together—collaborating on documents, tracking their meetings, managing projects, and so on. There is no limit to the number of libraries you can have in SharePoint, and this allows for a higher level of specificity when creating libraries for certain tasks or teams. 

As team members add files and collaborate on documents over time, libraries quickly become saturated with content and finding the right file can become a chore. Library organization comes through the adding of columns and views that display content in multiple ways meaningful for their work.

For example, the site owner could add a "Project Name" column to allow members to filter or sort by that column, in the same way you would search using metadata labels. Team members could also add public views that group by author, or filter for contracts that expire within six months. Through the combination of columns and views, team members are able to find information quickly that will help them complete their work.

The choice is yours

Whether you prefer everything in a single location or split up into more manageable sizes, there is an argument to be made for either of these approaches. Your decision should therefore rely heavily on your specific industry and line of work.

In industries such as healthcare, for example, the safekeeping of information is of high importance. Content and data is often of a highly sensitive nature, meaning security has to be water-tight to avoid heavy fines and potential loss of an organization’s reliability. Because of this, the ‘big container’ approach may entail more problems as content is not clearly structured or organized. utilizes both metadata and libraries for document management best practice within SharePoint.

  • Treat Emails as Documents of Record

With, users are able to save email messages together with important documents in one central SharePoint (or Office 365) and OneDrive for Business repository. automatically maps email headers (e.g. To, From, Subject) into SharePoint metadata, offering a unified, automated metadata process that lets you quickly find important email messages. also aggregates messages from an email thread into a single SharePoint location.

  • Find Documents and Emails Quickly

Using metadata to find your document is quicker and easier with By automatically setting the search scope directly in the window, you can speed up your search for content considerably. This comes in particularly useful if you are part of a large SharePoint or Office 365 farm.

  • Simplify Navigation

Define ‘Favorite’ locations to your most often-used views and folders for near-instant access. Furthermore, you can follow those Favorite locations to obtain real-time updates of edits and changes to important documents, as well as the addition of any new documents.

For more information on how to manage your SharePoint documents as efficiently as possible, contact us today


Danielle Arad
Digital Marketing Manager