Subfolders: The Organizational Artifact that needs to Stop!

Inefficient business practices are almost impossible to change once entrenched in organizational thinking. Sometimes, it’s the small ones that are the most difficult to change. FileHold has helped companies go paperless, replaced physical sign-offs with digital approval processes, and changed the way people find information. Those are easy changes once the company sees how they transform the day-to-day operations and the efficiencies gained. One of the most persistent inefficiencies is tiny: the subfolder.

Windows relies on subfolders to organize documents. Even pre-Windows, subfolders were foundational building blocks to bring order to the chaotic Windows ecosystem. Subfolders, and their children, sub-subfolders, are purely a by-product of this unstructured digital environment. There is no analogue in the paper world. No-one would put related documents into an envelope inside of a manila envelope inside a folder inside a folder in a filing cabinet!

FileHold does not use subfolders because they are not needed in a structured filing environment. FileHold provides a set of tools to organize, classify, and control access to documents that make subfolders irrelevant. Here are four reasons to stop thinking in terms of subfolders.

1. The subfolder is doing the work of a schema

Subfolders were deployed to gather documents with the same use, like a subfolder full of invoices, HR records, or whichever related documents want to be lumped together.

FileHold offers schema to classify documents by how they are going to be used. These can be defined by each organization based on how they create, use, and file documents. This eliminates the need to cluster documents to show their use type, as that is built in with the schema, and provides a filter when looking in a Folder or performing a search.

Of course, schema do more than just classify; they also allow for setting unique retention schedules, workflows, Courier, auto-filing, etc. Schema also control which users can see them. Let’s say you need to control access to Invoices, so sales and accounting can see the schema, but manufacturing cannot. This allows for access control in a non-siloed information repository, something that is impossible in a Windows environment.

2. The subfolder is doing the work of a metadata field

In Windows, users are limited to using the available tags, which are generic system information – date, size, application, file name, etc. In FileHold, you can group and organize documents with metadata fields specific to each schema to show related document information. The Invoice can have the invoice number, vendor, date of issue, and total along with generic system information tags. Windows forces you to isolate documents because you have no ability to show document relationship. To show documents related to a purchase order, you need to create a subfolder. FileHold lets you tag that PO number to related documents so they can be easily found without segregation.

This exposes another issue with subfolders: isolating documents encourages duplication. Creating a subfolder based on a PO, for example, means that accounting, sales, and shipping need to understand and agree how their documents are stored. It also means if they want to organize documents by invoice, they are unable to without duplicating the invoice in the PO subfolder. FileHold does not have that limitation. If documents were tagged with a PO metadata field, then all documents related to that PO can be found instantly in their home location without needing to duplicate them. Silos can be replaced by access control of the centralized repository.

Tagging information ensures it can be found and organized by anyone without the need to isolate documents in elaborate constructions of subfolders.

3. The subfolder is the result of unnecessary structure

In a shared Windows environment, folders and subfolders are necessary to show ownership and departments. For instance, a Finance folder with an Accounting subfolder, Invoices sub-subfolder, and a 2021 sub-sub-subfolder. FileHold offers a flatter structure based on filing cabinets. The Library consists of Cabinets, Drawers, and Folders that store documents. There is an immediate urge to mimic the Windows environment with a “Finance” Cabinet and an “Accounting” Drawer. This creates the impression that the next level, Folders, is too limited. Consider this in the paper-based filing world. Would you ever have a paper filing cabinet named Finance with a drawer for Accounting and every invoice stuffed in a single (extraordinarily large) folder?

We agree that would be silly. FileHold suggests a User Group for Finance would be more useful. Now, you can have a Cabinet for Invoices. When Finance users log in, they see the Invoices Cabinet, since that’s what essential, with Drawers organized by year and Folders by Client, or department, or month, or whatever level of breakdown makes sense visually. The contents are still searchable and organized. When Shipping logs in, they don’t see that Invoices Cabinet, they see the Shipping and Receiving Cabinet. The CFO can see and search both. By flattening the filing structure, it makes it easier to locate what you need and skip needless layers of structure.

4. The subfolder is familiar

Everyone is used to Windows, where the only way to group or organize documents was with subfolders. However, the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits. Consider file names: in Windows, organizations require very disciplined file-naming conventions to make them appear organized onscreen. If you wanted to show how two documents were related, it was file name or subfolders, or both. FileHold offers tools like schema, metadata, and flat filing to help eliminate the subfolder, and can even provide automatic naming conventions to ensure filenames are maintained with no effort.

Considering this, why do subfolders persist? Because they are a habit that have become so ingrained to the way documents used to be organized that they are entrenched in how organizations think about filing.

Software like FileHold changes that mode of thinking by providing a better service that ensures our customers can find what they need when they need it, with only a small shift in operational practices. Change is always a challenge, but when the alternatives to old habits are greater convenience and efficiency, change is worth doing.

To learn more about how FileHold can transform your document processes today, contact us at [email protected].


Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver brings his twenty years of experience in management in the entertainment industry to FileHold Systems as the Client Training and Retention Advocate. To learn more about how FileHold DMS can work for you, contact him at [email protected].