It’s a typical business scenario. Several people on a project have to create a set of documents: a report in Microsoft Word, a budget spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, the final presentation to the board using Microsoft PowerPoint. One person writes the draft, and wants input or changes from other project participants. So far, so good. But that’s when productivity—not to mention disk space—heads down a rat hole.
All too often, people share documents by sending the files around in e-mail. Everyone involved adds his own changes (using revision marking, if the leader is lucky), and then e-mails back that unique file. The project leader has the unenviable job of incorporating all those changes, or there’s a flurry of confusion when everybody waits for Jane to finish with the file so Joe can add his own text. And never mind that the security of your document is practically nonexistent as well; what would you do if your competition happened to latch on to your latest and greatest project description? Or your sales presentation for a key client? As a byproduct, the team creates huge attachments (often with no consideration given to file size—and PowerPoint files can reach 40MB in a hurry).
It’s terribly inconvenient—especially when there’s a better way. And it takes only a few moments to learn.
In short: keep the Microsoft Office documents on a network drive to which all participants have access. Microsoft Office manages access to the files, far better than you can. If Jane has the file open when someone else attempts to bring it up, Microsoft Word will say that the document is in use (by Jane) and give Joe the option to open it as read-only (which sometimes is all that’s needed) or to be notified when the file is unlocked again. (Unfortunately, none of the options include “automatically send Jane an e-mail message to tell her to hurry up already,” but that cattle-prod technology has not yet been perfected.)
The benefit: Everyone works on one version of the file, so it’s impossible for things to get out of sync. Your e-mail inbox (and mail server) isn’t stuffed with contradictory versions of important documents. And, since—presumably—your network servers are backed up on a regular basis (far more so than are most users’ laptop computers), the documents may be more secure as well.
The downside, of course, is that it requires the document editors to be connected to the office network and to be logged into the VPN. That’s not especially helpful for mobile executives who imagine that the best time to work on a PowerPoint presentation is on the flight to the board meeting. Those individuals need to think ahead, and to grab a copy of the latest version from the server before they leave on their trip.
This may sound like a “Well, duh!” tip—unless you didn’t know it already. I’ve watched too many otherwise savvy business staff blithely send huge files in e-mail—a dozen times a day.