Since Microsoft SharePoint’s launch in 2001, it has matured into a platform that has a lot more to offer than just storage and document management . From using SharePoint as an Enterprise CMS to a Business App creation tool, it has proved to be a highly customisable and feature-rich platform.
But since its features have expanded a lot over time, they tend to overwhelm users and prevent them from making the most of it.
The blog will show you how to use SharePoint effectively so that end-users can save time and improve their workflow.
So here are some SharePoint best practices that you should definitely check out.
A) DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT
1. Know what you can search and what you cannot
This happens a lot to many SharePoint users. Sometimes you search for a document, but you end up finding a whole lot of other documents you don’t need. So it’s important to figure out what is searchable and what isn’t.
If you have permission or access to a particular file, you can automatically search for this file wherever you are on your SharePoint site. The search will match your keyword with the file name, the title of the document and any associated tags and metadata across its system. It will also compare it with the information inside the file.
2. Name Files Consistently
While we discuss the subject of searchability, you’ll notice how obscure the filenames can be in the search results. That’s primarily because someone shared a file without changing its name. This can cause a lot of confusion for other users and they end up opening each and every document to see if it’s the right one.
If you maintain a large volume of files for a customer of many years, naming all your files consistently can reduce guessing for all parties involved and save a lot of time. It is easy to simplify your naming convention. All you need to do is sort it with the subject name followed by the date or file version number. Ensuring this is more than enough to save a lot of time and unnecessary calls or emails.
3. Find Documents easily with Tags
Every time you search, Microsoft can pick up just about anything on your websites. To get more precise and usable results, you can tag documents. Think of it as similar to how movie streaming platforms categorise the movies by genre or release date so you can browse that particular category.
For example, you can search for “Annual Report FY2021” and get exactly what you look for. To do this in your SharePoint, you first need to go to the document library in which you have your documents and add a new field that will hold that category.
To help you understand, we created a new column of type [Choice] called “Annual Report” . After assigning each document a unique fiscal year, we can now categorise and filter documents in the library based on this tag.
But that’s not it. Once the search picks up the new field, we can also search for “Annual Report FY2021” and get specific results from anywhere on the site.
4. Automatic Metadata Tagging
Another SharePoint best practice that you should know about is Metadata Tagging. If you have lots of documents to upload and tag, it would be a good idea to set up this handy feature.
Follow these steps to configure automatic metadata tagging. Don’t worry, it’s a one-time setup.
a) Create a new tag for the metadata options you’d like to capture (just like we did with [Annual Report] above). It’s alright if you have multiple metadata pieces, you may go ahead and create them all.
b) Create a folder for each metadata piece. For example, if you have 4 tags, then you’ll need 4 folders.
c) Go to [Library settings] of the document library and click on the option [Column default value settings]. In this case, we have the [Annual Report] column, and we have 4 folders for each of the fiscal year options.
d) For the next step, click on each folder, and then click on the metadata tag, in this case [Annual Report]
e) Set the default value equal to the metadata tag you want to assign.
Now, each time you drop documents in the folder, they will get automatically tagged with a default metadata.
5. Approvals and Workflow
Getting document approval is one of the most common requests customers need to manage documents. If companies, for example, use fill-in forms to initiate and approve holiday requests – approval is an excellent way to track those requests.
As a user, you can create a pretty basic approval workflow right from your library by selecting the file you’d like to approve and clicking [Automate] -> [Request sign-off]
Once the sign-off starts, it’s pretty easy for approvers to comprehend what to do next.
You can also create a custom workflow right from the library if the above-mentioned basic workflow is not enough.
Click [Integrate] -> [Power Automate] -> [Create a Flow] right from your library.
6. Locking Documents
This is one of many SharePoint best practices that you must be using.
You will often come across situations where you need to make a document viewable to others, but no one can change it or make any updates to it. In simple words, you need to lock a document.
Using SharePoint permissions for this may not be the best idea because there is no indication for users, except the owner, that this document has special access. And what if you need to unlock this document sometime later in the future?
Thankfully, there is a solution for this called [Declaring an in-place record]. Here is how to set it up in a library. Again, it’s a one-time setup.
a) Go to the location of your document library and navigate to [Site Settings].
b) Click [Site collection features] and activate the [In Place Records Management] feature.
c) Now go to the library where you want to enable this locking. Go to [library settings], and finally
d) Click [Record declaration settings] and select [Always allow the manual declaration of records].
That’s it. Users can now easily go to the library and declare a record by selecting a file and going to [More] -> [Compliance details] -> [Declare as an in-place record].
7. Securing Documents
Organisations with teams in multiple countries have restricted access to the content they should be viewing. Employee benefits, for example, would be best if kept separate unless they are all the same for everyone.
Employees can search for almost everything they have access to with Microsoft search. And therefore, you might end up sharing something that shouldn’t be public, and someone might accidentally find your document. However, there’s a way to prevent this from happening.
a) Share permissions by using existing groups like Site owners, Site members, and Site visitors. This means if you add new employees or groups to any of the following Site owners, members, or visitors, SharePoint will automatically take care of the rest and set the required permissions.
b) Every time you use the [Share] option on a file as shown below, SharePoint creates distinctive permissions for the library containing this document.
c) It might come as a surprise, but your employees can share files with people outside of your organisation and you won’t know about it. External sharing is a highly usable button amongst companies that work with external agencies like auditors or contractors.
You can prevent this by either of the two methods. Create a separate site with lower security clearance, or use automatic link expiration when sharing a file to prevent access to files after a particular period of time.
These are some of the SharePoint best practices that you should follow when it comes to document management.
B) DOCUMENT LIBRARY
8. Folder View versus Flat View
When it comes to folders in SharePoint, you have everything organised as if it was on your computer, but sometimes you can’t find a file until you click through several folders. And if you have folders within folders, then it gets more complicated.
The solution to this problem? Have both a flat view and a folder view!
It’s very easy to set this up and you need to do it only once.
In your library, under the right-hand side drop-down called [All Documents], you will see an option to [Save view as].
Give it a suitable name [All Documents – No Folders]. From the far right-hand side of the command-bar drop-down, select [Edit current view]. Scroll down to the [Folders] section on the following page. Select [Show all items without folders] and save the view after making your selection.
The users will now have two viewing options – the one with folders and the one without.
9. Using Personal Views in the Library
In the previous example, you might have noticed a lot of filters and toggles that employees can use to filter and manage documents.
Some of the most frequently used options are:
- Show additional metadata details
- Sorting files in a particular order
- Filtering files
- Grouping files into one or more groups
You can create a public view to find and share the documents if most employees have similar needs. If not, they can create a private view only accessible to them. With this, employees don’t disturb the library view for everyone else but have access to their view.
To create a personal view, an employee has to do it by himself. Use the same steps we did in creating a [No Folder view] but no need to select [Make this a default view] when saving the view. This will create a view available only to the employee who created it.
10. Copy Sharepoint Lists and Libraries
Many users face this problem. They create a library, add metadata, create views and so on. This often takes hours. But then, if they need exactly the same list or library elsewhere, they need to re-do everything from scratch. Well, not anymore. With this SharePoint best practice Users can copy the list they have access to, and most of the configuration will come with it.
All you need to do is:
a) Go to the site where you want the new list to be
b) Go to [Site contents], and click [New] -> [List]
c) Name it and click on the [From an existing list] tab
d) Pick any list on any site you have access to
e) Click [Create], to copy the list from the existing one.
11. Restoring Library from Accidental Deletion
Explaining how to use SharePoint effectively is incomplete without giving you tips on how to restore data in case of intentional or unintentional loss.
You can restore a deleted file from the document library with SharePoint. All you need to do is:
a) Navigate to the library where the file deletion happened.
b) Click the [Gear] -> [Restore this library]
Select a time period to start the restore process.
You will also see document history so you can determine to which day you should roll back changes.
These are some of the SharePoint best practices that you should follow when it comes to managing your document library.
12. How Permission Access Inheritance Works
As discussed before, setting permissions the wrong way can disclose documents through search to more people than originally intended. Employees may not be able to access the document, but they could see it in search results. So setting permissions access is another SharePoint best practice that you should follow:
You can avoid such instances using the following way::
a) If you have folders, set their permissions from the folder so that it applies to all the files inside it.
b) Folders inherit their access from the document library.
c) Library inherits permissions from the site. It’s a good idea to keep the inheritance this way unless you have requirements as described in the next section.
d) The website is at the top of the permission hierarchy. Permissions set here will automatically apply to all the items across the site.
13. Restricting Permissions on a Library
Another SharePoint best practice that you might find useful is restricting permissions on a library.
There might be instances where you might want to restrict a user’s access to the library on the website. If there is a library like that on your site, make sure you give it a name and description that clearly states its purpose. For example, you can call it [Financial Results (Partners Only)]. This will indicate to admins and Partner groups that this library is only visible to them.
You can follow these steps to limit permissions on the SharePoint library:
a) Navigate to the library and access the [Library settings] from the [Gear] menu
b) Click [Permissions for this document library]
c) After that, click [Stop Inheriting Permissions] on the ribbon
d) Select [Grant Permissions] in the ribbon to invite specific people to this library
If you made a mistake, you can click [Delete unique permissions] to roll back changes and start over.
14. Sharing Specific Files
Employees with access to the site may be able to share files with others by using the [Share] function. But since sharing files this way exposes it to search results, it’s a good idea to restrict this option only to owners or members groups.
You can do this by going to the site where you want to restrict file sharing, clicking on [Gear] -> [Site permissions] -> [Change how members can share]
15. Managing Access Requests
When employees need to share a file with someone, they usually copy a URL from their browser and send an email with it to others who may not have access to this file. The recipient will get this error if the employees share the files in this manner.
These are some of the SharePoint best practices that you should follow when it comes to permissions.
D) SITE STRUCTURE
16. Establish the look & function of your Site/Library before replicating it
The most important key to the success of your employees’ SharePoint adoption is to know your employees and their past working history. This way, you can tweak the settings to reduce reluctance to everyone’s adoption.
It is a good idea to ask the following questions before developing a site or a library:
a) What will the site do for employees?
b) Contents required to fulfil that purpose.
c) How to group similar content uniquely?
Once you figure it out, you can create a content map that will make it easier for everyone to implement it and understand the purpose it fulfils.
17. Sharepoint Site Navigation
SharePoint best practices when it comes to site navigation are as follows:
a) Keep your navigation structured by function, not departments. It offers a few benefits like your top navigation will remain consistent as you add new content and you won’t need to update the navigation when departments change. New employees unfamiliar with your company structure will find it easier to navigate the site.
b) Structure the navigation according to employee needs. A few advantages of that include employees finding more relevant content, the ability to eliminate unused content, and improvement in adoption rates by as much as 90%.
18. Understanding when to use Team Site or Communication Site
The Team Site and the Communication Site are the two primary types of site templates in SharePoint.
You can use the Communication Site for the following purposes:
a) Broadcast message to a broad audience of employees.
b) Have a small number of contributors (communicators) and a large number of readers (employees)
c) Need a full-width screen to show more content.
You can use Team Site for the following purposes:
a) Collaborate with a group or team for a task-oriented activity.
b) Have many users who have access to the site, and regularly contribute content.
c) Have associated Team Site calendars, Microsoft Planner links, MS Team channel, OneNote etc.
d) Visually, let users focus on libraries and lists.
19. Using SharePoint Hub Sites for Grouping Similar Sites
Hub sites allow you to group all related sites in a sort of virtual group with a few added benefits.
For example, if a customer needs a site for every portfolio or project, you can group all sites under one hub site dedicated to projects. Simply put, a hub site becomes a landing site for all of the projects.
Some additional benefits of the Hub Site include:
a) Consistent navigation across sites belonging to this hub site.
b) Consistent theme colour and logo.
c) Ability to roll up tasks and news published on a specific team site in the hub site.
These are some of the SharePoint best practices that you should follow when it comes to site structure.
E) ADDITIONAL SHAREPOINT BEST PRACTICES
Still interested to know how to use SharePoint effectively? Read on.
20. Enable Alerts
With many different users making edits and changes to SharePoint documents, there is always the risk of missing something important that you wanted to keep track of. Therefore, it makes sense to create alerts and get notifications when users make changes to these documents
If you have documents with sensitive data, you can also add an additional validation step for giving editing permission.
To get alerts on item changes in SharePoint:
a) Go to the list or library.
b) Select the file, link, or folder for which you want to get an alert.
c) From the list of options for the list or library, select the “…”, and click Alert Me.
d) Click OK to save.
21. Use Columns
With columns, you can filter, edit and create groups of important data. For example, Yes/No fields, Person or Group, and Places or Numbers to name a few.
Using columns, you can organise information and transform a list into a table akin to Excel.
You can add a wide variety of columns in SharePoint without leaving the list or library.
a) Navigate to the list or library you want to create a column.
b) To the right of the last column name at the top of the list or library, select [+ Add column]
c) In the drop-down, select the type of column you want.
d) In the Create a column panel, enter a title or column heading.
e) Select Save.
22. Syncing Files
You probably know about the OneDrive Sync Client, which helps to sync OneDrive storage with your computer. SharePoint also has this function. If enabled, you can easily use the feature to sync files across devices.
a) Open the folder you want to synchronise.
b) Press [Sync] right above the list of files.
c) A new window will open asking if you want to change the app. Select No.
d) Click Next.
e) When you see a window that says “loading your list of folders,” do not press Next until the process is fully completed.
And that’s it! You can access all the files on your computer, and across all active devices.
23. Open files using the Web or Desktop App
You can prefer which app to use each time you open a file regardless of what is set as your default option.
All you need to do is:
a) Select a single file and then click on the Open command
b) Choose either “Open in browser” for the web app or “Open in app” for the desktop app.
24. Enable Dark Theme in SharePoint
Love using the Dark Mode? SharePoint has you covered.
a) Go to the gear icon to open the SharePoint settings
b) Choose “Change the look” followed by “Theme” and finally select the Dark Yellow theme.
c) If you don’t like the yellow colour, click on “Customize” to change the main and accent colours.
d) Click Save to enable dark mode.
25. View all items shared with External Users
After sharing files over a course of time, you might start to lose track of which items you have shared and to whom – especially if you shared a file with an external contact and eventually forgot about it.
In SharePoint, you can view all the items you have shared externally. All you need to do is:
a) Go to the gear icon to open the SharePoint settings and go to Site usage.
b) Scroll down and you will see a section titled “Shared with external users”.
c) Here, you can View permissions for that item and revoke them if required.
And, that’s a wrap! These are some of the SharePoint best practices that you should follow to improve your productivity and collaborative skills.
SharePoint is becoming an unavoidable aspect of the way businesses operate in the digital world. It is more than a document storage service and has loads of powerful features that we have explained above. Through this article, we have listed how to use SharePoint effectively.
We hope these SharePoint tips and tricks will make it easier for you to understand and effectively use SharePoint.
If you need any help, all you need to do is get in touch with us. Our resident experts will help you customise SharePoint as per your needs and ensure the success of your intranet redesign and thereby make way for higher user adoption.