We all know that every business relies on documents, but how many do we have to cope with and what do we do with them? What did our Healthcheck say about the way people manage their documents?

We asked questions about the quantity of documents handled by the business and what happened to them.

What counts as a document?

Bar chart showing the format of documents received by a business
Documents are received both electronic and paper form

Firstly, to clarify: a DOCUMENT is defined for this purpose as any electronic file or piece of paper that is useful to a business. The document can come in many forms . Some will have to be kept as a legal record, e.g. for tax purposes. Others will contain information that is useful to a business at the time of receipt but have no long term value.

The graph on the right shows the proportion of the common document formats reported by respondents to the survey. It is a fairly even distribution between e-mails, office documents, pdf and paper.

How many documents does a business receive and have to process?

Pie chart showing how many documents a business files each month
The number of documents filed by a business each month

We asked how many documents the business receives and files each month (i.e. didn’t immediately dump).  The answer is a lot! Over half receive and file more than 1000 a month. This isn’t surprising, given the number of emails that flood through the door, but it does have significant time implications on a business. We can do some simple calculations with these figures:

Every document received needs to be read, at least briefly, to see what it is about.  We estimate that this must take about 10 seconds at a minimum.

If we presume that at least 50% of the documents received are not filed (this may be quite an underestimate given the amount of spam around) that means that each person must be reading at least double the number filed. If you do decide to keep a document, it probably takes at least the same time to work out where to put it. So, if you keep 1000 documents a month (i.e. 2000 received) that amounts to 8.3 hours a month or 100 hours a year. That’s about three working weeks every year simply filing documents – without even thinking about processing the information they contain.

Now you know where time disappears!

What about the copies?

All the above assumes that each business receives and keeps only one copy of each document. In reality, any business with more than one person is likely to have multiple copies: copied or forwarded e-mails, saved attachments and the like. Each of these is taking time to store and using up space so the figures above are probably underestimating the problem rather a lot.

Have a think about your business.  Do all your staff maintain their own filing system, perhaps because then they know where things are?  Or do you have a centralised filing system that everyone uses, with one copy of everything?  If it is the former, you could save quite a bit of time (and therefore money) by thinking about running a more efficient system.

Next time, I’ll look at what people do with all the documents once they are filed.