When an employee, intern, or student departs from TSS, they leave behind a pile of digital documents. They have old emails in their account, resource reservations in Resource Scheduler, files in Google Drive, saved voicemails...you get the idea. There are generally three things that we in IT do with this data. We can...

  • Delete them- this is what generally happens to old voicemails
  • Archive them- emails get this treatment
  • Transfer them to a current employee- Drive files and resource reservations get transferred


If you've just received a heap of Drive files from a departing staff member, this can run the gamut from being a bit annoying to completely overwhelming. In the rest of this article, I'm going to offer suggestions for how to process Drive files from the digital departed.


How Drive File Transfers Work

When someone leaves the organization, the IT Department suspends their Google account, removes them from any distribution groups, and transfers their Drive files to an active user. This file transfer is important because whenever IT delete's a user's account, all of their owned files and folders disappear along with them. This means that, unless they've transferred ownership to a different staff member, anything they've created in Drive will be permanently deleted.


Google's administrative tools allow us to transfer all of a user's folders and documents to another current user, which is what the IT Department does to prevent documents from being deleted. This is an all-or-nothing process; we can't, say, transfer four folders to one person and the remaining six to another user. All of the files and folders can only be transferred to a single user. When the transfer is complete, the user will see a new folder appear in My Drive containing all the transferred files and folders, like this:


When you get a new folder o' documents like this, that means its time to do some digital housekeeping. You'll want to go through that users' files and ask the question: does the organization still need this? If the answer is 'no', you can delete the file/folder. If the answer is 'yes', you should organize that file/folder and make sure it's in its proper place.


Wait For the Right Mindset

First of all, know that there's no rush to tackle this digital decluttering. You don't need to do it the same day, week, or month that this person left. Wait for a time when you're not crazy-busy, when you can devote your whole attention to the task. If you're already stressed, feeling overwhelmed, or distracted, you won't make the best decisions about what to save and what to keep. Slow down, breathe, and don't be afraid to tackle the project some other time if you're not feeling it.


Look for Files Already Stored Elsewhere

When you first open the user's folder, the first thing you want to look for is a file titled "Documents transferred from folders owned by others username@tetonscience.org", or something along those lines. If you see this folder (and you might not, as not every user has one), you should tackle it first, as it'll be thee easiest part of the project. This folder includes documents that are ALREADY organized in another folder. 


For the files and folders inside this folder, you want to go through and see if these files/folders are also in some other location. To help you in this task, make sure that you have the Details Sidebar enabled, which is the right-hand sidebar that gives additional information about each document. You can toggle this sidebar by pressing the D key on your keyboard, or by clicking the small "i" icon in your toolbar. 


Now let's go down the list. I want to highlight the first file, then look at its Location in the Details Sidebar. What I'm hoping to see is that there will be another location OTHER than the current "Documents transferred from blahblahblah folder". Take a look at this example:

Woo-hoo, I'm in luck! I can see that this folder is located in BOTH the current folder ("Documents transferred from....") AND in the Library folder. This means that collaborators can still find this document in the Library folder, which I can click if I'm curious where that is. I can safely click the 'X' next to the 'Documents transferred..." folder knowing that I've removed this file from my Drive, but this document will still be find-able in the Library folder.

Go through the rest of the folder (and then, later, the user's other documents) this way. If the document has second (or third or fourth) location, it's OK to click the X and remove it from this current folder. If you don't see another location, it's probably best to leave the file where it is, at least for the time being.



Look for Untitled Documents

While conducting this round of digital forensics, you may find Untitled documents. Remember, Google saves every document you start, even if you don't get very far. I often find these in the files of departed users and they're good candidates for deletion. For example, here's one Untitled document I found that consists only of a blank 1x2 table. I feel comfortable that I can get rid of this.


Look for Unshared Documents

Using the Details Pane, you can also see who a document has been shared with. This can be a good gauge of how important this document is to the organization. You may find many documents that are only visible to you and the original owner. This indicates that it isn't getting much use and that no-one would notice if you deleted it.


On the other hand, if you find a document that's shared with a large number of people, that's a clue that it might be important to others:



Look for Unshared Copies

If you find documents titled "Copy of....", this is a good indicator that you might be able to delete them, especially if they're unshared or if you're familiar with the original document. For instance, here's a document that was transferred to me titled "Copy of NMFA Staff Bios - July 2017".  I know that there's an original of this Staff Bios document already in existence, and I can see that the original owner didn't share it with anyone. I feel safe deleting it.



Look for 'Getting Started' Documents

Every new Google Drive account automatically gets a PDF called "Getting started". You can delete this when a user leaves, there's no need to save it.


Final Thoughts

If you're not sure if you should Trash one of your newly-inherited documents, it's good to keep a couple points in mind. When you drag a document to the trash, it doesn't actually get deleted until your empty your Trash in Google Drive. So, if you do need to get back a trashed document, you can browse through your Trash in Drive or use the search modifier "is:trashed" when you perform a search. Also, know that at time of writing, we currently back up all users' files in two different backup services. If you know the name of the document you're trying to recover, IT can assist with finding and restoring it. For more details on restoring deleted files, check out this tutorial.







Think Documents, Not Folders