My previous article recommended using cloud-based solutions for your property management documentation. This helps to reduce the problem of using outdated information and allow easy access to your documents from any location that has Internet access.
Whether or not you store on the cloud or on your computer, the next step is to create and maintain an efficient property management file system.
While this process is taking place, you don’t want to disrupt ongoing your business nor do you want to accidentally “delete” important documentation. Below are 7 steps to help you safely set up or reorganize an electronic file system for your company.
Step 1 – Designate who will work on a new or reorganized system
Someone has to do the work. Plan carefully who that will be. Consider their time as well as their computer and organizational skills.If you have a networked system, be sure to consult your IT person before taking any steps.
- It may be you, one of your personnel, or a specific team, depending on the makeup of your company.
- Let everyone know about this process, why it is happening, and enlist their cooperation and input.
- Set realistic deadlines for completion. If this project is open ended, it will never happen. You may have to revise your goals along the way but if everyone has an expectation, it will help to achieve success.
Step 2 – Plan your new or reorganized file system
It is important to plan the organization of your system first. Then when adding or updating documentation there is a sensible system for storing them. It also may be that you currently have a good filing system and it just needs some fine-tuning. This is an important step and not taking it can lead to more chaos.
- Identify “groups” of documentation by reviewing existing documentation. For example, you have owners, leasing, tenants, vendor, employee, marketing, etc. It helps to create a file system accordingly and map it out in advance. You can use various software for this – spreadsheets, a SmartArt graph, or mapping software (read my previous blog article on mapping).
- Plan your filing system according to these sets of documentation.
- It is also a good strategy to plan both your electronic and paper files in a similar manner.
Step 3 – don’t DELETE – COPY
You want to reorganize your documents into your new filing system but you don’t want to lose valuable documentation accidentally. You also don’t want to disrupt business by creating chaotic files.
Don’t delete, instead copy all documents on one drive into one file folder, such as New File System. Then you can add sub folders, such as Owners, Tenants, and Vendors, to this file folder. To avoid copying over documents with the same name, add a number or date at the end of the other document. You can also create a “Z old documents” file folder to drag in old or unused documentation. This will put the Z file folder at the end; then if you later need to retrieve a document, it is still there. If you feel confident it is an unnecessary document, you can simply delete it.
Tip: remember that in most computers, until the “empty the recycle bin” feature is used, you can restore a deleted document. However, once the bin is emptied, it is gone forever unless you have stored a copy elsewhere.
Here are practical drives to use for copying all documentation in one place.
- It is an additional backup to prevent loss of documentation – just ensure everyone knows NOT to delete files.
- Because it is portable, it can be transferred between parties to use.
- It is portable so you can easily connect it to several devices to copy all documentation. So, if you have one set of documents on a laptop, one on a desktop PC, and another stored up on the cloud, you can collect them all on an external drive for reorganization.
- Designate an external USB hard drive for this purpose. There are many external USB hard drives available at a reasonable cost with large storage, such as 1 terabyte. There are additional advantages to using an external USB drive for this process.
- Collect everything to a “Z Document Reorganization” file in your cloud-based storage. By using “Z” at the beginning, it will automatically file this folder at the end of any other existing file folders and will keep them separate from your current working files. It makes it easier to locate and work on.
The advantage of using the cloud is that if there is a team of people working on it, they can access it from any device anywhere they have Internet access.
Another advantage to using a cloud-based storage system is you can allocate who can “share” certain files. For example: most broker/owners do not want everyone to access sensitive company documents and personnel information. You can create a file folder for personnel/company documents and only allow access by certain parties.
There can be disadvantages of using the “cloud” for reorganization. If you have a very large amount of data moving around on the cloud continually, it will need to “update” any device used to access the cloud and this can cause delays in working on documents. Also, if there is a team of people working on this task, they need to avoid working on documents or file folders at the same time to avoid “conflicted copies.”
You can copy all documentation to a “Z file folder” on a laptop or desktop and use this location for organizing or reorganizing a good filing system. Just be sure to back it up regularly. This is a good solution if only one person is responsible for organizing or updating your system.
What is important is to collect all documentation in one area so it can be updated and/or reorganized.
Step 4 – Update or add new documentation on the temporary drive.
Let’s review the previous steps – a designated party or team is set up to organize or reorganize your files; a new or reorganized file system has been planned; all documentation has been collected on one drive for organization into the planned system. Now it is time to add or clean up all documents and store in the new filing system. This is THE task. It takes time, work, and commitment. Strive to meet deadlines and if necessary, review and reset them.
Step 5 – Replace the old files with the new.
As you complete your new file folders/documents in your new system, you can add or replace existing files. Once again, the cloud can be a great solution for everyone to access the correct documentation or file folders for your completed file system. Once again, if you have a networked system, consult your IT person.
Step 6 – Create backup / satellite files
It is always important to back up, back up, back up. You don’t want to have to “reinvent the wheel” after all that work. Backup critical documentation on local drives in the event of power outages or emergencies/disasters. Just remember to back up often and on different mediums.
7 – Train everyone to use and “maintain” the new file system
If personnel are not trained on how to properly use and maintain the file system, you will take giant steps backwards – disorganization will happen and happen quickly! Too much time has been invested for this to happen, so be sure to make this happen.
- Meet with your team and review where they can easily access company approved documentation for each procedure, such as new management, applications, leasing, move in, move out, notices, etc. No one will use the right materials if they are unaware of their location.
- Advise everyone where they can store new documents, such as completed leases, addendums, letters, etc.
- Require everyone to “work on the same page” and implement a policy that no one changes documentation without prior authorization and review by management.
For example, if one property manager is using different criteria for applications than the other managers in the same company, this paves the way for a Fair Housing complaint or other legal issues. Reduce risk by mandating proper use of all forms.
- Make team members aware everyone is responsible in maintaining accurate and organized files.
With the technology available today, it is possible to create and maintain well-organized property management documentation/files. Remember it takes time, planning and commitment. Then recognize that it is an ongoing process but one that is really worthwhile, reduces risk, and ultimately saves everyone’s time.
Jean Storms, MPM® is the founder/author of LandlordSource and has been a NARPM® member since January 1993.
Disclaimer: LandlordSource does not represent the article content in this website as legal advice. It is shared information only and up to the reader to use this information responsibly, seeking legal advice as necessary to their business.