Does this sound familiar to you?
I was head of marketing at a startup and completely lost it when I saw the presentation our salesperson used to pitch an $80,000 deal.
My coworker’s presentation looked like it was created in MS Paint. The font was horrible, the images were blurry and he used the old version of our logo.
We lost this deal because our Google Drive wasn’t organized.
The salesperson checked the “Sales” folder in Google Drive but couldn’t find our latest sales deck. So he created his own presentation.
Our clutter caused his mistake and cost us a huge deal.
I decided to research all of the ways to organize our Google Drive the right way. This post includes all of the techniques I learned.
What to watch out for with shared drives
Every company I've worked for saw its Google Drive eventually become a mess, no matter how meticulous they were.
Why? There are multiple reasons:
It’s human nature for busy people to be messy. This is especially true for shared folders and files since there's no clear owner.
You end up with a free-for-all when you don’t have a policy of what should go where.
- Everyone saves files in their own drive instead of shared folders.
- Nobody knows a file's available if it’s not directly shared with them.
- Everyone forgets the file exists even if it was shared since it was never stored in the right place.
You need strict enforcement even if you have a policy. There’s no mechanism in Google Drive to force people to put specific files in the right folder.
You’ll encounter folder bloat even if you have a policy in place.
This happens because you number of docs and files created adds up over time.
Some people won’t know or care where to put those files, despite an organizational policy. The folders will be poorly or confusingly named on top of that -- only making sense only to the folder's creator.
Too many collaborators
Shared folders have many collaborators by nature. Google Drive gives each user a lot of freedom to shape a shared drive by default.
This can get messy and you need to keep that in mind.
No file naming conventions
You need good file naming or you’ll end up wasting time opening files just to check their contents.
Not using Google Drive’s hidden features
There are some features in Google Drive which are very useful.
We’ll go into detail about which ones you should use below.
Multiple versions of files
You create a file, someone uses it but makes some changes. This happens over and over again until no one knows which version with which to start.
You’ll only get notified when a file is shared directly with you.
What happens if a file is added to a shared folder? Nothing. You’ll have no idea there’s a new file available for you to use.
This is the biggest pitfall to overcome. You’ll unknowingly create a new file or doc even though someone else created it already. Or, you’ll never use the file and miss out on a resource.
Let’s dive into making your Google Drive as organized and scalable as possible now that we’re aware of the pitfalls.
Our detailed Google Drive organization strategy
It’s a good idea to have a plan before organizing your shared folders.
Here are some ideas for organizing your organization's shared drive.
Plan out your folders
How will your co-workers use Google Drive?
Most organizations put marketing assets in the Marketing folder, sales assets in Sales, HR assets in HR and so on.
This is wrong.
Your Sales team will likely use the Sales folder for whatever docs & files they need regularly. This could be non-sales assets like a logo, but it can also be an NDA or a report.
Only create as many folders as you think you'll use. Too many folders confuses people and leads them to dump files into the shared drive without using folders at all.
What type of folders do you need? An agency or freelancer will have folders for each client with subfolders for different phases of client projects. A larger company should have folders for each department.
Create a policy
Every employee's onboarding should include learning the company's Google Drive policies.
The policy should cover:
- Who can add, remove and rename folders
- Which types of files need to be added to folders (not all should be added)
- How and when to clean up old files
Add file naming conventions
File naming conventions help save you from opening files in order to discover their contents.
Create a system for file naming like, category + type +version + date. This convention creates file names like, "Sales Presentation v1 Q121" (Q121 = 1st quarter, 2021) or "Marketing Campaign Report v3 Q420."
Using a naming convention like this ensures clarity.
Restrict folder sharing to a minimum
Making sure each user in your organization has an uncluttered Google Drive is a productivity superpower.
You can achieve this by only sharing what's relevant to each user.
A couple of ways you can do this:
- Shared drives
- Access permissions
Enable better searching
First, understand how Google enables search. Shared files and folders need to be added to your "My Drive" in order to be searchable.
You can filter searches by:
- file name
- Items inside the file
- File type
- Date created
- File size
- Shared with
- Follow up (assigned tasks)
Next, ensure proper naming conventions so that it'll become easier to search for files when you're not sure what the name is.
Make Google Drive part of new employee onboarding
We assume everyone can figure out how to use Google Drive - but that's not true. There are many hidden features and best practices that most people aren't aware of.
Create a best practices and hidden features tutorial, covering:
Make sure that onboarding includes:
- Which types of files go into which folders
- When to add files to shared folders
- Naming conventions
- When to overwrite a file and when to create a copy
Set up Google Drive for desktop
Google Drive for desktop is very useful if you use software offline like Microsoft Office or Sketch.
It allows you to save a file to a folder on your desktop that syncs with your online Google Drive.
Create shared drives for company-wide docs
Shared drives allow a team to share a drive where all of the files belong to the team, not the individual.
The main benefit is that the files remain accessible in the shared drive even if the file owner's account is closed.
Shared drives are also useful for collaboration. All users have the same permissions and see all of the files in the shared drive.
Another benefit is that external users can be invited to join the shared drive. For instance, you can create a shared drive with a client or freelancer.
Save time and never forget to share with a contact by using groups created in Google Contacts.
- Go to Google Contacts
- Click the check box next to each contact you want to group together
- Click the tag icon above the contact list
- Create a new label and click Apply
You can now share any file with this group inside Google Drive by typing the group's name.
Mark files as final
What’s the latest version of the sales deck? Who knows 🤷?
You often create multiple versions of a file without marking the official version or main template. This inevitably creates a mess.
Avoid the mess by adding "template" or "official" to your main file and use the replace feature to keep it up to date and limited to one version.
Or, you can save yourself a lot of time and just use Neatly to organize your shared files.