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SharePoint Blog

November 14
A World Without Folders

Whether you are new to SharePoint or have been involved with SharePoint for many years, you've undoubtedly heard by now that folders are a "no-no".  With the advent of managed metadata, we have the ability to filter on a tag by creating a custom view of what is in a document library or by utilizing a content query web part on a page to aggregate a list of documents.  Both require a paradigm shift in thinking that ultimately will be worth making.

Although it may be before your time, there was a time when we used to file data on pieces of paper in a file cabinet.  (Some of you may be thinking that those were the good ole days!)  This is why the first interfaces for computer storage looked like a file cabinet with file folders.  This was the case with the old Windows operating system 3.1.


(I bet this brings back memories for some of you while others are thinking “this was BEFORE my time.”)

After we all got comfortable with seeing our favorite file cabinet on a computer screen and we could find our way around a computer, we had to change.  Microsoft stumped all of us when Windows 95 introduced the Start menu.  Anyone who was used to seeing a File Manager file cabinet on their desktop was quickly confused and didn’t have a clue where to begin.  When it happened to me, the proverbial light bulb didn’t go off until someone came over and showed me the “Start” button and Windows Explorer -- and how to get to it.  Once that light bulb went off though, I was able to make a paradigm shift in my thinking to finding those file folders from there rather than the virtual filing cabinet.


That start menu has been with us a very long time.  It received a few design facelifts, but if I want to find anything on my computer, I just begin with the Start button.

Today, if you are using a computer with a Windows 8 operating system you are probably aware of how confused users were because the Start button disappeared – in fact so confused that Microsoft had to add the Start button back into the user interface creating Windows 8.1.


Again, one has to make a paradigm shift in the way they think in order to find a feeling of comfort in working with the new interface.  . . unles you’ve never used another operating system, in which case it will be a piece of cake. 

Now, back to SharePoint. . . .

We are all used to file folders on our computers.  Most of us in the business world are used to our fileshare drives that also use folders.   Those folders do everything from organize our files to controlling who has access to them.  To be told that we should give up our folders when we use SharePoint – the world must be crazy!  Once you start to do it though, document management actually gets easier.   Think about it for a minute.  Don’t you hate having to remember how you organized your file folders in order to find what you’re looking for?  Do you frequently end up using search in Windows Explorer to try to find what you’re looking for based on the title or a word that you remember using in the name of the file? What happens when you have to find something in the file folders organized by another employee – especially one who has left your organization?

SharePoint actually makes storing and finding your documents easier when you dump them all into your document library without folders.  If you do even a small amount of planning for your document library, there are so many ways that you can search or filter for documents that you quickly find that you have more power over finding those documents than you thought.  Oh sure, there is still the old standby called Search.  However, you have other options.  You can …

      1. Set up a list view in your SharePoint library that shows all files in that library that you created. 
Select the columns you want to see and the order you want them to appear in 

      2. Set up a view in your SharePoint document library that filters on content type or a managed metadata column – like forms, contracts, policies, procedures, etc.  – even group by the different content types

Resulting in:

Just as good as folders, right?
Maybe better since I can see what is in more than one group at a time?

     3.   Set up a page and use content query web parts (if you have publishing enabled) to show a list of all documents by topic – like HR forms, expense forms, finance policies, how-to documents, etc.
I can get these lists to automatically update by year or only show new items – again I can see what I need without having to drill into folders.

           a. filter additionally by

                                                               i.      year or date  (ex. modified or created in only the past 12 months)

                                                             ii.      author (ex. Created by or modified by)

                                                            iii.      department (ex. Human Resources, Information Technology, Finance, Marketing, etc.)

        b. filter on “checked out by” and use yourself to get a list of documents that you have checked out (or pages)


Here’s the same document list, but only Forms show AND I can group by month or any other column I want.​

The choices for how to setup the way to find documents are only limited by you.  Are you willing to learn different ways to tag or filter your documents?  If the answer is yes, then the more choices you will find that you have – and the easier SharePoint makes your work life.



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