Nowadays, it’s easy to create a document. Think about all the automatically generated documents associated with your business: invoices, confirmation emails, receipts. What used to require a phone call now requires an email. Our inboxes are overflowing.
It may be tempting to just keep everything, forever. The cost of holding on to every file your business ever created seems small in today’s technological landscape. And besides, what if you need something later? However, there can be some significant costs and risks associated with keeping your business’s data and documents, both paper and digital.
First, you may be underestimating your storage costs. Even “going paperless” doesn’t eliminate storage expenses. Backup systems, hard drives, servers and “the cloud”all cost time and money to maintain and use, especially as that digital data exponentially grows by the day.
Second, storing large amounts of old data can be a security risk. Protect your customers’ and employees’ privacy by destroying documents after they are no longer useful. A business’s intellectual property and trade secrets could also be of interest to prying eyes.
Third, keeping all documents could increase your company’s exposure to legal liability. Certainly if a business or individual is anticipating any kind of litigation, it should not destroy or dispose of documents. Destroying documents under such circumstances is in violation of the law, and could lead to drastic consequences. However, responsible and legal destruction of documents is an essential practice for any business.
When and how to destroy documents can be a complicated question. The answer will depend greatly on the unique circumstances of your business and industry. Laws may require certain documents to be kept for a certain amount of time, such as tax documents and employment records. Other laws require certain information to be securely and systematically destroyed.
The best place to start is to create an inventory of your documents and data. Contemplate where and how each category is kept, accessed and used. Each category likely has some reference value, but pinpointing when the value has diminished will help guide your destruction policy.
Once you’ve decided what you can (and should) destroy, create a destruction schedule. A destruction schedule is an instructive policy that will dictate how long certain kinds of documents should be kept, and when they can be destroyed. Of course, a destruction schedule only works if your employees are aware of it and implement the policy. Destruction schedules should be routinely revisited and revised as technology and your business grow and change.
Just as a home needs regular upkeep to function, your business needs a system to keep data and documents accessible, useful and clutter-free.