The way we organize files is intensely personal. Folders have given us a way to group files in almost countless ways. Folders are familiar. Their boundaries are easy to understand. Permissions applied to the folder and anything in the folder inherits those permissions. Sub-folders are easy to create. Folders are simple to copy or move. Someone new to computing can easily learn file management because of this containerized concept. It translates to real-world experience with containers we use every day to store and organize objects.
The trouble with moving to cloud-based storage is that each platform has its own spin on how they think file storage should operate. Their folders may use the same features, such as supporting sub-folders or permissions. But there are differences between the platforms, sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle…
We should not expect everyone in our organizations to be able to quickly learn and understand the new ways of working with cloud-based files. It will require a gradual introduction of concepts and clear value propositions for people to change their habits. We must also be mindful of the pace and pressures of work that will always reduce the rate at which new habits and concepts are learned and adopted.
Thankfully, we can meet our people half way. We can bridge the gap between working with files in Files Explorer and in the Cloud. Here are 6 essential skills to improve adoption of working with files in the Cloud.
Often when someone creates a new document, they either start from a blank template, a template created by your organization. Or they open a similar document and make a copy to alter and adjust. They can continue to work on that document for some time before they have the presence of mind to save it somewhere. When they do, it’s usually one of two places: Locally on their Desktop or Documents folder, or into their Home drive. This is not going to be an easy habit to change, which leads to the first two tips…
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to use Microsoft 365 cloud-based file storage in my examples.
1. Move and sync the Home drive
The Home drive is usually mapped to Files Explorer. It can be given a familiar letter like “H” so people can easily associate it with “Home.” The first significant change is to move the contents of Home drives into OneDrive for Business and synchronize it to the owner’s desktop. Don’t underestimate how impactful this first change can be. You’re changing the icon of where they will find their files. It’s no longer a yellow ‘manilla folder’ icon. It doesn’t have the familiar “H” drive letter. It will appear in a different position on their folder view pane in Files Explorer.
But this is also the first and most important change to understand and adopt.
• To quickly reduce the anxiety, show people their familiar files and folder structure still in tact within OneDrive for Business.
• Show them that the OneDrive icon operates in the same way their Home drive did. The folders can be expanded. New folders and sub-folders can be created. Files can be dragged around to shift them.
When people see their familiar files and folders, there’s an immediate understanding that they haven’t lost their files.
2. Ensure people know how to use Files on Demand
Files on Demand is the latest and best tool within Windows 10, for encouraging adoption of working with cloud-based files. When OneDrive for Business is synced with a person’s Desktop, it creates placeholder icons for each file and folder in the cloud. They immediately recognize their files and folders.
In a file migration project where Home drives are being moved to OneDrive for Business, the files have often been moved in batches on behalf of the end user. This means that when they begin to use their OneDrive for the first time, files are likely to still be based in the cloud.
• Show your people how to recognize when a file is still in the Cloud and that the simple act of opening the file, synchronizes it onto their device.
• If there is a file or folder that they often reference, show them how to ‘always keep [it] on their device.’
• Lastly, show your people how to ‘free up space’ on their device and make the file a placeholder, so they can retrieve it later from the Cloud when it’s needed again.
Practicing these three skills will begin to build up an understanding of how to work with cloud-based files. By leveraging the on-demand syncing of OneDrive, an individual learns they are in control of when they retrieve a file from the Cloud, what is stored on their device and for how long.
3. Use known folder move
Some of our people have learned what they know about file management on a computer through the features and guidance built into Windows. They sign into their computers and save all their documents to the ‘Documents’ folder that opens by default when saving a new document. When we are short on time, even those who understand that files should be stored on the network, save their files to their Desktop folder or Documents folder for convenience. Smart IT departments have redirected these common folders to a network share to ensure they are backed up and accessible from different devices.
OneDrive for Business introduced ‘Known Folder Move’. When active, files saved to local folders like ‘Documents’, ‘Photos’ and ‘Desktop’ will be synchronized to the Cloud. A local synchronized copy will still be available, even without an internet connection. This supports our people who are still learning to deliberately save files into the OneDrive folder in Files Explorer. They haven’t formed the habit yet. But even when they continue to save files to their ‘Desktop’ or ‘Documents’ folder, the files will be synchronized to the Cloud for them.
Make the time to speak with these people and show them that they are working with their documents in the Cloud, without any conscious effort. But then show them the real value they can take advantage of.
• Ask if you can set up the OneDrive app and a couple of the Office apps on their mobile. Connect OneDrive to their work account and show them the files that are synced to the Cloud.
• Open the most recent Word document that they saved to the ‘Desktop’ or ‘Documents’ folder. Show them that they can read and review that same document from their mobile.
• Open Office.com in a web browser and highlight the ‘Recent’ documents list on the landing page. Open that same Word document and make some changes from the web browser.
Seeing the files saved to common places are available in a web browser and from a mobile, really hits home the value of syncing files to the Cloud. You’re not asking your people to change their file saving habits right away. But you can show them where to find them in the Cloud, if they ever had the need to read, edit or share them.
4. Show people how to share a file from the Cloud
The number one file sharing platform on the planet is email. It has maintained that title for years because it’s so easy to attach a file and send it to the people you address in the email. When you need to find that file later and the conversation associated with it, email search has become very powerful. Type in a few keywords, a person you think you sent the file to and an approximate date and you will usually find the file you’re looking for.
But mailboxes were never designed to be file storage and retrieval facilities. What keeps us locked into this habit is the value of the conversation attached to the file.
However, we soon experience trouble when we need to maintain version control and keep track of collaborator’s responses. Some of our organizations still run a strict limit on the size of our mailboxes and limit the size of the files we send.
Your next drawcard for using cloud-based file storage is the simple file sharing. Our people can feel they are sending the file, when it’s really a link and invitation to view or edit the file.
Outlook and OneDrive have done a superb job in this area, by guiding our people towards cloud-collaborative behavior. When they click to attach a file, the recent files are offered to attach. If the file is one that has been synchronized with OneDrive, Outlook will offer to ‘Share [a] link’ or ‘Attach as [a] copy.’ Sharing a link makes the file still appear to be attached. However, it sets the permissions to the sharing default chosen by your organization (such as, ‘Anyone can edit’) and attaches a link for the recipient to open.
IT savvy people know the value in this. But make sure you point it out to those who are on this learning path to working with files in the Cloud.
• Show them how to attach links to files rather than attaching the full file.
• Encourage them to experience co-authoring by opening the document with the recipient while on a phone call. Review the document together and make changes while discussing the content of the document.
5. Show how to sync a project folder from a collaborative file repository
As our people grow in confidence working with cloud-based files, introduce them to synchronizing their project folders from their team sites.
• Open the document library of a project they are currently working on and sync it.
• Show the same placeholders and Files on Demand behavior can be used with collaborative file repositories.
6. Your external contacts are going to use whatever cloud file sharing platform they want to collaborate with you. Meet them half way. Use a platform that syncs between them all.
Even when our organization makes a choice to standardize on a single productivity platform like Microsoft 365, we have external contacts that use other platforms. There are a lot to choose from. We shouldn’t expect our people to learn to use them all. Use a file syncing service like SkySync to connect and sync all the common cloud file platforms. This reduces the learning for our people who struggle with change and multiple ways to share and collaborate on files. It means that ultimately, they can continue to use OneDrive for Business and sync the files shared by their external contacts.
The tips in this post are just a starting point for improving adoption of cloud-based file productivity and collaboration. The main thing to keep in mind is that you build progressively on the skills, starting with what is familiar. Communicate the value of each feature using real-world scenarios that solve meaningful problems for our people. They will soon become experts.