The Mystery of the Missing Documents

Posted by Meigan Montoya on August 2, 2018

5 Best Practices for Organizing Your Community Association Documents Online

Who doesn't love a good Scooby-Doo mystery? Well, probably not the people being harassed by Miner 49er, that's who! It's all fun and games watching the gang discover who's behind the mask, but what happens when that face is yours? If you're not managing your documentation, then you're the (accidental) villain in this episode, and plot twist, you're also your own victim! 

Document Management is something that a lot of companies tend to see as going above and beyond, instead of a necessary step in documentation. Everyone already knows to save their documentation, but when you don't properly manage your saved files, you end up stuck neck deep in a mystery of your own making, hunting down long-forgotten covenants, contracts, and invoices. 

Scooby and the gang have enough on their plate, so here are five ways to avoid calling them to solve a document management mystery:

1. Naming Convention

Intentionally naming documentation is more than just putting a name on a file. It's a way of setting up an organized, searchable structure to make your online documents read like a well-maintained filing cabinet. This will eliminate the countless hours you've no doubt spent searching for a document that you saved weeks or months or even years ago, but can't remember what name it was given. 

A great way to establish a Naming Convention is by taking a static piece of information about the documents (for example, the home address number of the property the document pertains to) and incorporating that at the very beginning of the document. 

So if the community is Mist Erie HOA of Coolsville, USA (get it? Mist-Erie? Mystery! Maybe not...), starting the document names with "MistErie" is an easy way to quickly search for documents relevant to the property.

And for all of the documents relating to your AC vendor, Freddy's Air Conditioning, starting document names with "FreddysAC" will help differentiate Freddy's AC invoices from Velma's Landscaping Services invoices. 

Consistency is key here, though! You don't want some of your documents being labelled "FreddyAC" instead--then you'll still end up struggling through a document search and causing future headaches for yourself and your staff.

This may seem tedious, but it's an important part of proper document management that will pay off in the long run, especially if you have 

2. Versioning

An extension of Naming Convention, Versioning is a hugely important part of maintaining documentation. There will be plenty of times throughout the life of your management company that documents will need to be updated. But that doesn't mean that previous versions of those documents can just be deleted. You'll still need to retain old versions of documents in some way.

There are a couple of ways you can do this:

One of the most popular is ascribing an actual version number to each document. So the original would read as, "MistErie_PlatMap_V.01". And if that property is expanded on and the plat map changes, the new map would be labeled, "MistErie_PlatMap_V.02". The only down side to this is that if you don't know how many versions exist, it's hard to know which version number is the latest and greatest (unless of course you can attach the most recent file version to an owner, which I'll get to in a bit!).

Another way to do this is by combining a version number with actual words. So instead of just stopping at V.01 or V.02, you create additional keyword help to clarify which document is most recent, such as, "MistErie_RETIRED_PlatMap_V.01" and "MistErie_CURRENT_PlatMap_V.02". This allows you to keep changing the naming convention as you go along without running into the issue of having the same name for retired documents.

Without a version, each old version would read as "MistErie_RETIRED_PlatMap." Versioning allows for you to keep simple naming to determine current documentation without needing to overwrite previous documents, forcing you to lose important versions of the document in between the original and the latest, which could potentially put you in some legal hot water.

(Pro tip: Naming conventions and versioning are both practices that can be applied outside of a platform-based document repository. And while Document Management in TOPS [ONE] offers unlimited storage space, you can always house these documents on a local drive as well as in the TOPS platform without having to worry about modifying file names.)

3. #Metadata

Metadata is just a fancy way of saying "a word or phrase used to aggregate and track content." Hashtags are the most common method of using metadata in daily life. Every time you click that #FriYay on Instagram, you're letting metadata work for you!

The tagging functionality in TOPS [ONE]'s Document Management works much like using hashtags on Instagram or Facebook--it allows documents to be tagged with customizable keywords for easy filtering and search functionality in a different way than Naming Conventions or Versioning does.

You can tag any document with any tag you think is relevant, so by tagging all of your documents from your landscaping vendor, "Landscaping," you can track that tag and find invoices, contracts, and vendor information, without having to search through document names for each type of document.

As I mentioned before, consistency is key here! You don't want to tag some of your documents with "Landscaping" and tag the rest with "Landscape," because you'll risk only viewing some of the documents you're trying to track, not all.

4. Ownership

As strange as it sounds, documents need owners! Without ownership, your files are just a mountain of paperwork without any level of importance, and sadly that's how a lot of HOA and Condo Association software handles your documentation. Document Management in TOPS [ONE] features a more efficient way to categorize documentation with owner attachment functionality.

By allowing managers to attach specific documents at multiple levels (like organizational, property, and homeowner) the manager is able to create a filing system of sorts, the same way your computer allows you to create files for the documents you create. 

Think of each level, and each individual in that level, as a file folder. Your organization is the primary folder that you can use to attach any organizationally-relevant documentation. Then you have your multiple properties, which will very likely share little to no documentation.

Each property should have its own covenants and governing documents attached, as well as vendor information per property. And then you have all of your homeowners, who have violations, requests, invoices, and plenty more all of which need to belong to each of their "files."

The ability to assign a document to a specific owner is a crucial part of documentation management as the document manager--this won't make those documents public to anyone but you and your managers, it's just to set you up to be more organized in the long run.

5. Visibility

Building off of Ownership, Visibility is another major player when managing documentation. While ownership allows the document manager to organize which documents belong where, visibility is all about transparency and keeping those owners informed (or at least as informed as they need to be) by granting viewing access to specific documents. Ownership is the drawer the file goes in, and visibility is who gets the keys to which drawers.

For example, everyone needs access to covenants and bylaws for their community, so making those documents visible to a specific community allows the whole community to see the documents at any time. But you don't want your whole community to know what Old Man Jenkins's secret underground laboratory's architectural plans look like, so you'll make that document (or set of documents if they have changed) visible only to his specific property.

In TOPS [ONE]'s Document Management, if or when he sells that property, those plans will still be assigned to the property, not to Old Man Jenkins, so your new homeowner will be able to see every version of the plans the property has ever had.

Retention Policies

There are certain documents that, by law, community associations are required to keep in certain capacities. Covenants and land plats, for example, are expected to be retained indefinitely. And we've already talked about the kinds of documents community associations are expected to retain AND keep publicly accessible online.

Keeping these documents is a requirement--that much has always been true. But just having them on hand isn't good enough. Like any well-organized containment system, everything needs to have a home. Document retention is great, but it's only the first of many steps. To truly manage your documents, you need to set up a repository structure and enforce a standard of filing, maintaining, and accessing that documentation.

Mystery Solved!

While document management isn't quite as adventurous as a Scooby Doo mystery, it is important. And it can be simple, especially in an intuitive, multi-functional platform like Document Management. The time that you invest into that management will come back to you ten fold once you've gone through and laid the groundwork.

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