Folders vs. Columns in SharePoint
What is the best way to organize your documents in SharePoint: folders or columns? This is a question we get from our construction industry clients all the time. The answer? It depends on your business use case – and your goals. Below are some questions to ask yourself when deciding which organizational method to use.
We discussed the three ways documents can be organized in SharePoint in our previous blog post. Now we tackle what approach (or combination of approaches) is best for your organization.
So folders or columns? It all depends on your business requirements and what you want to accomplish.
When to organize documents by folders in SharePoint
Using folders makes sense when most of the following apply to your use case:
- You need permission controls – Folders are great for managing permissions within a document library. You can assign permissions by individual folders. You can create folders for each permission group instead of creating multiple document libraries for every user/permission group.
- You are primarily storing temporary documents – Folders work well for working documents. These types of files typically don’t need rigid organization or robust query, filter, and search capabilities. Users can just drop documents in folders for temporary storage and collaboration.
- Only basic document organization is needed – Folders make sense if you only need to sort documents by filename, who created or last updated it, and when.
- User adoption is a concern – Using folders makes it easier for users. Let’s face it, whatever is easiest for user adoption is often the best solution. When your users become more familiar with SharePoint – or their requirements expand – columns or meta data can be introduced.
Here are a couple other things to keep in mind if you decide to use folders for organization in SharePoint:
- Form libraries may have special requirements – Folders are treated like a record by SharePoint. If you plan to implement InfoPath forms with a custom numbering scheme, make sure you take into account your folder names.
- Folders can make for long URLs – Each folder and subfolder will add to a document’s URL. A long URL can impact connections and linking to documents.
When to organize documents by columns or managed meta data in SharePoint
You would be better off implementing columns or managed meta data when you have the following requirements:
- Your users will make frequent folder name changes – If your users are constantly changing and reorganizing folders and their contents, columns or managed meta data are your best option.
- You have a complex organizational hierarchy for your documents – It is hard enough to remember where you place files on your own local drive let alone a shared SharePoint document library. Multiple levels of folders make data harder to find. Also, each folder level adds to the length of the URL, which can create problems down the road. Columns and managed meta data make the most sense when your organizational needs are complex.
- You need advanced filtering, sorting and search – Custom columns in SharePoint give you lots of control to organize and filter documents. Columns and managed meta data also allow more powerful search. So go with columns or managed meta data over folders if detailed sifting of your documents is a critical need.
Getting Document Organization Right for Your Business
So there really is no easy answer to the folders vs. columns question. Every organization – and often each team or department – will have different requirements.
The good news is that SharePoint is flexible. You can take one approach for certain documents, and another for other kinds of data. You can mix and match approaches.
A well-thought out and professionally implemented SharePoint document architecture can increase your organization’s efficiency and reduce costs.
Want to explore a document storage approach in SharePoint that is right for you?
Contact us for a free consultation.