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January 8, 2021

Office Life: It All Starts with the Best Intentions

file pile

Throughout my professional career, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal about office life.

  • General office management (GD printer is offline - again),
  • Office location hierarchy (who gets the window and who gets the old supply closet),
  • Office politics (closely related to hierarchy and windows),
  • Lunchroom etiquette (NO FISH EVER),
  • Dealing with multi-line phone systems (whoops sorry I hung up on you again), and
  • How to avoid becoming the de facto IT manager for your cell - I mean office - mates (stare blankly at your coworker’s blue screen of death from afar. Don’t. Touch. ANYTHING.).

These are all common enough situations that may or may not elicit a sigh or laugh.

There is one thing that when mentioned in professional conversation almost consistently sparks exasperated eye rolling solidarity. The one thing that can AND WILL single handedly bring an otherwise orderly office operation to a grinding, eye watering, hair pulling halt.

I’m referring of course to

THE SHARED DRIVE: Where Important Files Go to Die.

I’ve worked in several offices with shared drives, generally accessible on some sort of Windows based file server, networked together by the aforementioned De Facto IT Manager.

First days on the job generally require new employees to sit at a workstation, review employee handbooks, safety manuals, processes, chains of command, and the shared drive of company wide accessible files.

Almost to the letter, every office I have ever worked in has an office manager sit you down, explain where and how to fill out necessary paperwork, then with a sigh and slightly ironic laugh, provide access to the shared drive to “look around”.

It’s always good to go into these situations with a clear and open mind, because it won’t be long before that ubiquitous phrase starts to creep into your brain: “Why Is This Here?” quickly followed by “What Were They Thinking?!”

A NEW HOPE

As a new employee, wading through a company’s past may tempt you into thinking: I could do this better.

You begin to picture how the folder hierarchy SHOULD WORK.

Within a few weeks at the new job, you start tentatively moving files around; then more aggressively; then, after a few months, confident file deletions begin.

This is the honeymoon phase.

It won’t last.

Within a few months, the very thought of sorting through old files and reorganizing ANYTHING sends you into a cold sweat.

Before long, your own personal file system within that shared drive is shambles. Shame floods your soul as you save another unnamed jpeg in Miscellaneous.

THE ROAD TO HELL…

My intentions when I set up the BRAND NEW shared drive for Levis Tech were momentous. I would do everything correctly. I would start as I intended to go on: carefully organized file hierarchy coupled with consistent file naming conventions.

It would be a thing of beauty. Every document you could ever want or need would be at your fingertips! Never again would a file be lost to the savage maw of For Sorting, Miscellaneous, Other, and Archived Files folders.

I’ll give you 3 guesses about how many days it took to pave that road with my good intentions. More than 1. Definitely less than 100.

TECHNOLOGY LENDS A HAND

We store all of our documents in Google Drive, and let me tell you I’ve become addicted to the power of Google’s search algorithms in tracking down documents that would otherwise be lost, even within the short amount of time we’ve been acquiring them.

Within Google Drive, the search not only finds files based on folder or file name, it can also search document contents, meaning that if you can even remember what was in a document, you might be able to track it down.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Does the state of our shared drive make me happy? Definitely no.

However, I trust that as tech algorithms march along and AI becomes more accessible, it will be simpler and more intuitive to find documents based on search criteria or even on context.

Eventually, folder hierarchy will be obsolete and all documents will be found by searching through content, metadata and keyword tagging.

The shared drive will then just be a giant pit of documents with no structure. My generally orderly mind cringes, but I know I must accept our new robot overlords and their distaste for human frailty and file folders.

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