October 12, 2022

Don’t Get Attached to Attachments: 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Inbox as a Filing Cabinet

The fastest, easiest way to share a file is attaching it to an email. It’s the ultimate “safe bet” approach when your sole focus is ensuring they receive and can access that file.

But quick and easy methods aren’t always the best approach. The downstream repercussions of emailing around hundreds or even thousands of attachments can quickly lead to a host of unintended consequences.

Three reasons to break up with email attachments

Here are some of the biggest reasons to steer clear of email attachments as a long-term solution for sharing and storing essential files:

Version control

The same attributes making email attachments so easy to use also contribute to their biggest weakness. Once a file starts floating around as an attachment, it essentially becomes a digital orphan. Untethered from any management and control system, the file can be saved, forwarded, and circulated forever, even when it’s not the most recent or accurate version, presenting both quality and security challenges.

Things get even worse when people start saving those attachments locally and making edits. This begets multiple, disparate versions of the file lurking about, oftentimes with the exact same file name or cryptic file name addendums.

All this chaos makes collaborative revisions and edits far more difficult, all while there’s no guarantee colleagues, partners, or customers will be using the latest and greatest version. Well-meaning folks may inadvertently keep utilizing outdated versions of files for years, impacting all sorts of downstream processes, transactions, and experiences.

Compliance and governance

Thanks to broadly applied standards such as GDPR and CCPA, more businesses than ever face serious financial and legal liabilities if customer data falls into the wrong hands. But many other industry regulations have equally strict document management guidelines for everything from the FDA’s rules for medical devices to PCI’s file integrity monitoring requirements.

Some banks’ risk management departments already bar employees from using email attachments to circulate certain types of files, and internal policies across many regulated industries similarly strive to keep essential and sensitive data locked down as much as possible. With penalties looming and regulators auditing, every business must be wary of what gets attached to individual emails rather than stored on a secure server either on-premise or in the cloud.


Inability to find a file when you need it is a major source of frustration and, in aggregate, leads to a cumulative decrease in productivity. Outlook’s search capabilities are fine, but without metadata or some other structural organization, locating the most recent sales territory Excel spreadsheet or a sales deck from six months ago can be an agonizing slog of trial and error.

Employees could construct an elaborate subfolder structure within their inbox to keep things more organized, but no system is foolproof and some emails with vital attachments may defy categorization. More importantly, an employee’s inbox is only available to them.

Instead of relying on a common file storage system for a specific team or the whole organization, everyone’s on their own. This complicates knowledge transfer, collaboration, and documentation and limits “self-service” options for workers seeking a specific file or directory.

Getting out of the inbox

Organizations committed to proper file management have a bevy of tools to improve their approach to document organization and storage. While the details differ, any valid solution shares the common traits of centralized storage and intentional, thoughtful categorization.

Store everything in the cloud

There’s little reason to store most files locally on a device and even less to save things for later in your inbox. Making cloud-based or on-premise storage the default “save as” option for companies ensures critical files spend little time circulating as bespoke attachments and more time serving as a centrally stored resource for everyone who needs it.

Cloud-based file storage can be as barebones as relying on Dropbox or Google Docs to host your files, but Microsoft Office365 users have more robust and nuanced solutions available to them. SharePoint provides full intranet and knowledgebase capabilities with endless possibilities for restricting or granting access to individual files and directories.

Using this approach, teams can transition from emailing attachments to simply sending along links to the documents and files people need, confident that only those with proper authorization have rights to edit, move, or delete them. File management exits the inbox and everyone gets access to the most up-to-date versions of things.

Make it automatic

The thought of migrating every attachment to the cloud sounds daunting and tedious, and simply proclaiming that “everyone must use SharePoint” isn’t likely to shift behaviors wholesale, creating a bifurcated population of early adopters and stragglers.

However, technology can streamline this endeavor, building those steps into standard workflows and habits. With a tool like harmon.ie’s 365 Suite, all the heavy lifting is done for the user, often automatically and behind the scenes.

Emails with attachments can be dragged-and-dropped into SharePoint, Teams, or OneDrive, plus users can set up simple Outlook rules to perform these steps automatically. Using SharePoint metadata, those files will be easy for you and others to find using search terms and filters.

And when it’s your turn to share a file, instead of dropping it as an attachment into your emails or Teams messages, you can quickly generate a unique secure link with the appropriate permissions.

Changing behaviors at scale

The technical solutions above, however, will only realize their full potential with an organization-wide commitment, reinforced with tools, policies, and best practices. When emails with attachments transition to the exception from the norm, your organization can truly optimize its operations, reduce unnecessary errors, and remain in full compliance with applicable regulations and security protocols.

The simplicity and ubiquity of harmon.ie’s 365 suite reduces friction and simplifies this transition. Not only is it the safer and smarter thing to do, but individual employees will be more empowered and productive when they can locate what they need quickly and independently, confident they’re using accurate and current files and data.

To find out more about how harmon.ie is helping enterprise organizations around the world, visit us at harmon.ie or sign up for a free trial today.

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