By Nancy Mann Jackson
Document storage and disposal is critical to get right, especially if your business handles financial or health care records containing sensitive information. Data breaches have become unfortunately common — Healthcare IT News recorded dozens of incidents in 2017, with millions of patient records affected. The fallout from these issues can be a huge burden on the companies that experience them.
How do you make sure your organization is properly managing document storage and disposal? Start by asking yourself these three important questions.
1. What Documents Do I Need to Keep, and What Can Go?
Some types of document retention are required by law, and industries such as health care have particularly detailed requirements to follow. But regardless of which industry you're in, double-check with a lawyer or financial adviser to find out exactly what is required — how long you must keep records, and whether they must be in paper form or whether electronic copies are acceptable. If you haven't already, create a master document to outline document retention requirements. Share this information with staff members who handle any paperwork, and create an annual calendar reminder to check with your advisers and update as necessary every year.
Aside from the "must keep" documents, your organization likely has its own particular recordkeeping needs, such as retaining information to use for marketing or customer service purposes. Discuss these needs with management, and create a document retention policy for these as well.
2. Paper Storage vs. Digital: What Should I Use?
Paper records that are required for your business should be kept secure in a locked file cabinet or better yet, a fireproof safe or an off-site secure storage facility. For the vast majority of your non-essential documents, you may be better served to go digital.
Think about how you and other employees may use the documents you're keeping. If groups of coworkers need to access them frequently, digitized access via a cloud storage or document-sharing system is likely your answer. With a cloud-based digital system, staffers can access documents from any device — but you'll need to ensure that the cloud system offers stringent security protocols and that any devices accessing it have the latest updates installed.
If your organization uses paper for many routine tasks, such as creating contracts, look into online signing software like DocuSign to keep everything digital in the first place. No paperwork means no filing headaches.
3. What Process Should I Follow to Safely Dispose of Sensitive Documents?
Once you no longer need to keep sensitive documents, you should shred them. The fewer pieces of sensitive data you have at your organization, the less you have to worry about them falling into the wrong hands. Either purchase a shredder or regularly take documents to an outside vendor that offers shredding services. In either case, it's better to shred items quickly rather than keep them around.
When you've made these decisions about document storage, you'll be ready to move forward with a more organized, manageable workspace. Enlist the help of other co-workers across the office, and together you can get the paper under control.