How to use SharePoint: tips and best practices

Does your team have trouble finding files? Do you ever feel like a file has disappeared, or you  are waste time tracking one down? Do people at your company email files back and forth instead of using a central repository? Are your business files spread out across multiple storage options that include Google Drive, DropBox—and worst of all—personal hard drives?

All of these problems can create security gaps and impair your organization’s ability to collaborate in real time. A simple solution is to use Microsoft SharePoint to organize your files and set protocols for file sharing across your business. Your whole team will be able to find files in a few clicks, run file versioning to view previous iterations, and collaborate from anywhere on any authorized device.

To make the most of the power of SharePoint, you need consistency and organization. You need everyone across your company to follow the same best practices. Continue reading to learn more about how to use SharePoint as well as the best practices for getting the most out of the tool.

An introduction to SharePoint

SharePoint is used for storage and collaboration. Think of it as a repository; it’s a secure online place to store, organize, share, and access information from any device. It’s a centralized online filing cabinet for anyone in your organization. Looking for a specific document or file? Type its title into the search bar and access it in seconds, as opposed to searching through physical cabinets or unorganized computer folders.

SharePoint vs. OneDrive

Both SharePoint and OneDrive store your files in the cloud. However, SharePoint is for company files, whereas OneDrive is intended for personal file management. So, if you’re working on a project by yourself, save it to OneDrive. Keep in mind that files stored in OneDrive can also be moved to SharePoint if the project becomes a team effort, so beginning a document in OneDrive doesn’t mean it has to stay there or remain a solo project. 

You can learn more about the differences between SharePoint and OneDrive from Microsoft’s support page.

Set up content and file management

Don’t try to onboard all of your departments and their files at once. If you have several different departments in your company, add them one at a time to work out any kinks before you get too far into the process. Decide on a logical order of importance before you begin onboarding.

Maintain file organization and prevent clutter

Find a logical way to organize your files, one that suits your company’s users and their types of documents. SharePoint won’t streamline file searching if your documents are grouped in a way that doesn’t make sense. 

A SharePoint library can store many files at once, and libraries have several features that enable you to work with multiple files in the same library. If your organization only has a few departments and everyone has similar access permissions, you may only need one library. Using a single library is ideal if you want to see summary information about the files stored there or different views of the same set of files, such as consolidated updates from each department in the form of spreadsheets. 

If your organization has a more hierarchical structure with different access permissions per department, departments that don’t intersect with each other, and distinctly different types of files per department, consider utilizing multiple libraries. This way, if you know you need a document from the Finance Department, you can head straight to the Financial library without stopping to think where the document would be stored. 

Structuring your libraries and the folders within those libraries according to your company’s protocols will help you avoid clutter and find files quickly. 

Once you have protocols in place, ensure they are being followed throughout the company. Put someone in charge of ensuring best practices are always maintained. Follow ownership best practices to make sure someone is responsible for managing your end-to-end processes. We recommend each department page have a Business Process Lead Owner.

Search/find files efficiently

The search feature in SharePoint doesn’t work quite the same as a web browser search. You need to use full words to find files – missing letters will not be populated for you like you may be used to. Be as clear and accurate as possible when searching for files in SharePoint. 

Ensure your team is trained on best practices for file searches so that everyone can find files efficiently. Remember that successful searching begins with thorough procedures for naming your files. The closer you adhere to naming conventions, the easier it is to find files and the more productive your team will be.

Utilize SharePoint alerts

You can set up alerts on SharePoint so that you get notified whenever a file, folder, or link is changed in a SharePoint document library. This allows you to stay up to date on changes without having to constantly hit refresh to find everyone’s recent edits, file name changes, etc. 

To set up a SharePoint alert on all changes in a document library:

  1. Go to your list or library.
  2. In the list of options for the list or library, select the ellipsis (…) for more options.
  3. Select Alert Me from the dropdown menu.
  4. In the Alert me when items change dialog, fill in the options you want. 
  5. Click OK to save your preferences. 

If you’d rather not be notified every time anything is edited or updated, you can set up alerts for a specific folder without receiving alerts about the rest of the library. 

  1. Go to your list or library. 
  2. Select the file, link, or folder you want to be alerted about. 
  3. In the list of options for the list or library, select the ellipsis (…) for more options.
  4. Select Alert Me from the dropdown menu.
  5. In the Alert me when items change dialog, fill in the options you want. 

Click OK to save your preferences.

Set and maintain protocols

You need consistency across your company to get the most out of SharePoint. Putting in the effort upfront to determine your settings and procedures will save you time in the long run—no more clutter, no more lost files, and no more wasted efficiency. Here are four fundamentals: 

  • Establish organization-wide protocols for SharePoint and other Microsoft tools so that everyone is on the same page. 
  • Put someone in charge of best practices to make sure they are continually followed.
  • Train your entire team on your SharePoint protocols and best practices so that they can become more efficient in their work. 
  • Have these protocols readily available for your team to review and ensure all new hires receive the same training.

Protect your data

You must have a backup and recovery plan that goes well beyond Microsoft’s safeguards. Many businesses and MSPs don’t realize that Microsoft doesn’t cover data protection. You should use a third party data protection tool to automatically backup and protect all of your data. Your files are incredibly important for maintaining the daily functions of your business, and a security breach could be a nightmare for you and your clients. If you are not thoroughly confident in your backup and recovery practices and procedures, you should hire an external IT team to assist you. 

Outsource SharePoint setup and maintenance

You don’t have to go it alone. You can save yourself both time and money by bringing on experts who specialize in staying up to date with constantly evolving web applications like SharePoint. Ensure your business is effectively using Microsoft tools, and your critical data is protected with thorough backup and recovery protocols.

Leverage IT can train your team, get your best practices in order, and protect your data so that everyone in your organization can collaborate better. We will help set up your company’s Microsoft 365 applications, including SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, and all of the data protection protocols your business needs.

Contact us to begin leveraging your IT today.