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How to Organize an Office Filing System

Office filing systems can become unorganized if you don't establish a system from the beginning. Learn how to organize your office's filing system here.

No office is complete without a filing cabinet. Having this easy-to-manage storage space is a must for your team to collaborate effectively. But keeping all those complicated documents organized and keeping clutter off the office computer desk are often easier said than done. 

Maybe you’re setting up your filing system or looking for efficient cubicle organization ideas and not sure where to begin. Maybe your once carefully arranged filing cabinet has now become a big miscellaneous drawer with a lot of paper clutter. No matter what the case is, we’re here to help with under desk storage solutions. 

Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to organize an office filing system that will best fit your office’s needs.

Step 1: Consider Your Team

In drawing up a proper filing system, the first step is to understand the daily habits and practices of your team. Depending on their needs, your plan might be more or less complex. 

For instance, consider the following factors: 

  • Number of departments – If your team is on the smaller side, you might only need a few shared filing cabinets or even a single cabinet. However, if your company consists of many departments, each one may require its own types of filing cabinets. Various departments may also prefer their own organizational systems tailored to the documents they handle rather than a centralized filing method. 
  • Frequency of use – Take note of how many people will use the filing cabinet regularly. If there’s constant traffic, having a more standardized filing system is key. Otherwise, there’s a greater possibility that documents will end up where they don’t belong. You should also plan to reorganize the cabinet more often if it’s frequently used.

Step 2: Pinpoint Any Problems 

If your current file system isn’t working and you’re drawing up plans for a new one, you should take some time to determine what exactly the problem is so that you can avoid it in the future. 

Some reasons why your cabinet may have run into trouble include: 

  • Scattered organizational methods – Sometimes, there can be confusion regarding how the cabinet is organized. While some team members may think files should be organized alphabetically, others may think files should be organized by date. 
  • Lack of a maintenance plan – To keep your filing system running smoothly, it’s important to set aside some time on a weekly or monthly basis to check that your files are in order. This way, you can return any misplaced documents to their rightful places before disorganization gets out of hand.  
  • Insufficient space – Sometimes, the issue is just that your filing cabinet is too small to store the wide range of documents your team handles. If your cabinet is constantly overflowing or there’s no room for new files, it might be time to invest in a more elaborate, multi-cabinet system. 

Step 3: Create Categories

When it comes to organization office filing system categories, start by looking at your current set-up. Go through the existing files your team keeps to come up with some key categories for your system.

Examples of categories are: 

  • Finances, such as invoices, receipt books, and bank account information
  • Assets, including property, machinery, and furniture
  • Certifications required for your line of business 
  • Client files 

Beyond just the general categories, you should also consider the subcategories you might need. Make sure each member of your team knows how to organize the documents within a different category, or designate a point person who can answer questions. 

Step 4: Decide on an Organizational Method 

Now that you understand the physical documents you’re dealing with and the needs of your team, it’s time to choose the filing method that speaks to you. 

When choosing a filing method, it’s helpful to find one that will last. Constantly revamping or changing the system can take time away from your organization’s other operations and create confusion. 

Additionally, well-organized files bring important benefits in the long term, such as: 

  • Enhanced productivity – With files in their proper place, your team won’t be walking in circles or sifting through knee-high stacks of important paperwork looking for the documents they need. Instead, team members can spend their time addressing important issues directly related to their job responsibilities. It’s a win-win for the whole office. 
  • Better workplace morale – Difficulties in tracking down papers can lead to conflict. Team members may have to constantly pause their work to find documents unintentionally misplaced by others, which can result in an unfriendly or unsupportive atmosphere. On the other hand, a consistent filing system can cut down on misunderstandings, boost morale, and lead to an enjoyable office space. 
  • Complete records – It’s helpful to have the necessary records at your fingertips during tax season or if your company undergoes auditing. A carefully planned and maintained organizational method can help ensure that important information doesn’t fall through the cracks. 

Let’s dive in to the various ways you can organize your filing cabinet. 

Color Coding

Color coding provides a visual cue, helping you identify categories quickly so that you save time while retrieving and filing information. 

Choosing which colors you want to use for your filing system is also an easy and effective team-bonding activity. By allowing your team to have input on the design of the filing system and the colors used, they’ll be more likely to remember and maintain the proper filing method. 

Follow these tips to color code with confidence: 

  • Empty the file first – Rather than work around what you already have in place, consider taking all the documents out and starting from scratch when implementing a new color coding regimen. This not only helps you determine the number of colors you’ll need, but it also ensures your documents will be properly organized from the start. 
  • Standardize your colors – If you have a multi-cabinet system, think about using the same color scheme throughout the office or at least within a department. That way, the whole team can be on the same page about where documents are located, making confusion and conflict less likely. 
  • Go for bold hues – The whole point of color coding is to pinpoint the files you need quickly and easily, so choose eye-catching colors that are distinct from each other. If your file cabinet consists of shades of blue from cerulean to indigo, the lack of variation will make it hard for team members to remember which different category correlates with which color. 

Using an Order

A well-functioning filing system allows you to unlock the full organizational potential of your filing cabinet. One way to do so is by employing an order. The most common orders include: 

  • Alphabetical – If you’ve ever used a paper dictionary, you know that alphabetical order can quickly bring you to the neighborhood of what you’re searching, saving you time. Organizing your filing cabinet alphabetically is particularly helpful if the documents are equal in importance. 
  • Chronological – Rather than digging in the back of the file cabinet for that invoice from three days ago, employ a chronological order with recent paperwork upfront. If you choose this system, your team should use the same timeframe across the board, whether that’s when a project is assigned or due, when a document is issued or received, or when money is processed or hits the account. 

If you’re not sure whether color-coding or choosing an order is best for your office, consider the following:

  • Flexibility – Sticking to a strict A to Z filing system on a document-by-document basis can be time-consuming and counterproductive if your office is constantly filing new paperwork. In these cases, it may be best to color-code by category.
  • Category vs. subcategory – You might consider filing documents chronologically or alphabetically within a color or department category, creating subcategories for even greater organization. 
  • Complexity – It’s easy to get carried away and come up with an elaborate order for your files, but your system isn’t supposed to be a training ground for codebreakers. Make sure to choose an order that can easily be adopted and maintained. 

Step 5: Consider Setting Aside Space for Special Paperwork 

When implementing your filing system, it’s helpful to keep important or frequently accessed documents in an easy-to-reach place. Make sure to take into account the needs of your team so that you know which files should be prioritized. 

You can create a separate file for these documents at the very front of your cabinet or put them in their own drawer separate from the rest of the documents. If you need more room, you can even get an entirely new cabinet to house these special papers.

Additionally, it helps to keep these important documents at arm’s length for fast access, so think about placing your filing cabinet in a centralized location. If a cabinet is shared between two people, you can position it between their workspaces.

Juniper: Simple Solutions for an Organized Office

A successful filing system starts with having the right equipment, and that’s where our office furniture solutions can help. Our Box Box File Mobile Pedestal fits neatly under desks for easy access and features wheels for easy rolling if files need to be shared. 

Looking for more space? Try the EDGE 2-Door Cabinet—a stylish and modern solutions to all your long-term storage needs. 

No matter what you’re looking for, we offer a wide range of options to optimize your office space. Check out Juniper today for ways on how to organize an office


Happy Housie. Organizing Paperwork with a Colour Coded File System. 

Filling the Jars. The Best Way to Organize Paper Files: 4 Tips for Organizing Files at Home. 

Small Business Trends. How to Create a Filing System That Works for Your Business. 

Internal Revenue Service. What kind of records should I keep. 

Simply Placed. The Benefits of Organizing with Color.