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Collaborating from home means more than email and messaging attachments

(Image credit: Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock )

As everyone adjusts to the new reality of the lockdown, remote working has become the norm rather than the exception.  For those that used to work 5 days a week in a physical office and are new to working from home, document hacks with email and messaging are being embraced out of necessity.  Just like when email was first introduced, too often these hacks become ingrained in the workforce as the norm, rather than more productive and efficient document processing best practices. 

To get the best of both worlds, we need to embrace the technology enabling remote working, as well as the provision of electronic document management and workflow. There are some best practices for developing productive and efficient document processing systems and habits over email and messaging attachments which organisations can easily and quickly implement to make this happen.

More than just email and messaging attachments

While email and instant messaging are great ways to distribute content, attaching documents as a habit can have some long-term consequences including:

  • While email and instant messaging are great ways to distribute content, attaching documents as a habit can have some long-term consequences including:
  • Versioning difficulties where, as documents evolve, tracking which is the most current can be difficult
  • Concurrency issues when it comes to working documents where having more than one person updating the document can result in multiple changes and inefficiencies in consolidating to one version
  • Distribution issues with attachments or other means where documents tend to be floating around with little control
  • Security issues where attached documents are difficult to control in the email itself

Similar issues exist with messaging tools like Slack or Teams. Multiple copies result in poor control of the documents. Depending on the document type and process, sharing tools that provide file storage and synchronisation services can better avoid the email attachment issues with a consistent and shared document repository.

While email or messaging is an easy hack to quickly distribute a document, a better process focuses on sending links and bringing users back into a controlled environment where they can be the most efficient by:

  • Seeing the most recent version where updates in real-time to a document can be seen and reviewed by an editor
  • Collaborating on the document where changes can be tracked and new comments inserted
  • Not bloating email or messaging with document attachments so that weighty file transfer and security issues with file trust can be avoided

Collaborative software is far more effective than a back-and-forth volley of emails. Some great recent examples of new content management and update notification features on business software include collaborative integration on Slack, where new features can be utilised to send task notification alerts straight to the user in the application rather than relying only on emails that could get lost. There is a similar integration feature now with Microsoft Teams, where direct messaging helps alert users to task updates and notifications.

Efficiency of viewing

Other benefits of links versus attachments includes quick viewing and acting on documents.  Rather than downloading the document and launching a PC application to view/manipulate the content, links to document repositories can quickly take advantage of the browser and page-by-page viewing.

Tied to the viewing mentioned above, software which allows for users to see both the document as well as the annotations is really helpful.  For efficiency, rather than manually scrolling through a large 100-page document page and losing your place, such software allows for quick searching to just the annotations and provides high-speed viewing.

Annotation verses editing

Collaborative approaches with Google Drive, Office 365 or other methods are great, but reviewers need to remember to turn on “suggestion” mode for certain scenarios when authors are looking for feedback but not edits.  Annotation is a great means for collecting suggestions without running the risk of users feeling they are enabled or required to wordsmith or make changes to a document.

Software which provides the means to collaboratively annotate where users see annotations and comments from multiple users real-time.  Saving the annotations as layers rather than directly in the document allows collaboration to happen in a secure manner as required.  For a browser-based approach, these features can be accessed from home computers as long as they have a modern browser.

Electronic approval

Too often documents are approved via email without proper audit or controls. Efficiently storing as a record with the correct signatures is difficult when the email is the only audit trail of an approved document. In addition, this is often not stored in the correct system of record. 

Software which offers true electronic signature compatible with the high legal standards as well as integration with document signing software is key. This integration lets you seamlessly send documents from a content management repository to be signed, then onwards to be automatically filed as the document of record.

One area businesses need to focus on is the need to apply rules and requirements to reduce the number and requirements for signature.  Efficient systems not only allow for electronic approval, but also the intelligence to determine who should be approving and when.

Do more with documents

Gaining efficiency and productivity around documents is more than just sending and receiving documents, but how to best enable users to work with the documents as part of their job function. Efficiency and productivity, when it comes to the processing of claim documents, includes:

  • Integrations into other systems to simplify document management implementation and maintain the document’s security
  • Correspondence recorded with the documents so that audit activity is automatically captured in the system and documents stay linked to the email without being duplicated again in the claim folder
  • Automated document creation and combining of documents where a form drives to collect the relevant information and fills out the correct template
  • Side-by-side organised viewing so that users can use separate tabs of the same document and don’t lose their place in the document list by viewing

Efficiency of third-party contributors (no more paper)

Key to keeping employees productive with documents also includes keeping external parties just as efficient when it comes to sending documents. Rather than mail or email documents, innovative companies are building or leveraging third-party tools to have vendors or other third parties contribute electronic copies and index correctly.

Many companies are switching to paperless models, so they value portals that can accept and require indexing from a vendor or third-party, rather than an email which will require reviewing and indexing internally.


Once the lockdown finishes, many are predicting that innovative companies will take advantage of the lessons learned to offer remote work to a wider number of their employees.  Key to the long-term productivity of remote workers is working efficiently with documents, rather than relying on email or messaging attachments, through leveraging modern document processing tools.

Dave Giordano, Chief Strategy Officer, Alfresco

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dave helps shape the overall business and creative strategy for Alfresco, including research and thought leadership, and the company’s innovation programmes for both software and services.