Choosing Office Filing Cabinets for Any Business

A Filing Cabinet Buying Guide by Staples

A cluttered office can lead to stress, lost documents and misinformation. In an office where printed materials are aplenty, one of the safest and most convenient methods of keeping them organized is by storing them in a filing cabinet.

Whether you work in a large open-concept office or a small cubicle, in the medical field or in a design studio, there is an office filing cabinet solution for you.

In This Buying Guide:

Industry Snapshot
Selecting the Right Filing Cabinet (Chart)
Additional Features to Consider
File Cabinet Tips for a Large Office
File Cabinet Tips for a Small Office
Key Questions
Related Products

Industry Snapshot

If tasked with selecting the proper filing cabinet system for your office, key business considerations might include size, document accommodation, orientation (vertical or lateral) and security features.

For the most simple and affordable filing system, you might opt for a small vertical filing cabinet that can easily tuck under a desk – but the importance of cost and capacity differs depending on where you work.

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In medical, human resources, insurance, education,or other workplaces where you print and file documents consistently throughout the day, you might consider a vertical filing cabinet for its deeper and easy-to-maneuver single filing system.

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In a design studio, marketing firm, start-up or other office where décor holds a heavier weight and storage space might not be as important, you may opt for a lateral filing cabinet, perhaps with an attached bookcase or hutch.

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If you work in law, accounting or in an executive positionwhere the printed documents you have contain essential or confidential information, then the filing cabinet you choose should be equipped with locking drawers and perhaps even fire resistance.

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Selecting the Right Filing Cabinet

Most file cabinets are distinguished by their appearance and functionality. The two most common styles are vertical and lateral. Flat filing cabinets are also available for more specific uses.

Use this chart to help you determine which type of filing cabinet you need for your business.

Feature Vertical Cabinet Lateral Cabinet Flat Cabinet
Office Size
Different styles are ideal for different office sizes and layouts
Ideal for the compact office or cubicle with limited wall space; ensure placement allows for drawers to open fully Ideal for offices with empty wall space but limited floor space Ideal for the office with plenty of counter space
File Size
The size of paper the filing cabinet can handle
Letter (8.5x11) Letter (8.5x11) & legal (8.5x14) Larger, non-standard files including blueprints, banners, artwork, etc.
File Capacity
The ability to store a number of documents
High capacity for long-term file storage Medium to high capacity High capacity for single, flat, large-scale files
The average number of drawers
2 to 5 2 to 5 5
What the file cabinet is made of
Aluminum, steel, wood or plastic (generally reserved for miscellaneous office supplies) Aluminum, steel or wood Steel
The ability to keep documents secure
Individually lockable drawers or central locking system depending on size of model Individually lockable drawers or central locking system depending on size of model Central locking system controls all five drawers
Tipping Safety
Features to keep the cabinet from falling over
Tall vertical cabinets require levels and anti-tip mechanisms that allow for one drawer to open at a time Generally not a concern based on orientation, but look for a model with level or anti-tip mechanism Not required
Fire Resistance
The ability to keep files unharmed by water or heat/fire
Varies depending on model; look for a metal file cabinet that specifies fire resistance Varies depending on model; look for a metal file cabinet that specifies fire resistance Generally not fire-resistant
Price $; Two-drawer vertical cabinets are among the most affordable options $$ $$$$; Flat files can be very expensive due to their specific use cases

Additional File Cabinet Features to Consider

Number of Drawers

Filing cabinets typically come with two to five file drawers. Before selecting an office filing cabinet, estimate the volume of paperwork or other items that will be stored within it. Also take note of the space available for your cabinet. In a compact office, a two-drawer cabinet that fits under a desk will often work better than a tall, five-drawer filing cabinet.

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Filing cabinets can be either stationary or mobile, with the addition of casters and locking wheels. For an expanding office undergoing regular layout changes or an open-concept start-up where employees share storage units, a rolling or mobile filing cabinet might be the perfect fit. Learn more about rolling filing cabinets in the Mobile Filing Cabinet Guide.

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Hybrid Styles

Hybrid filing cabinets are lateral with additional shelving or bookcase space. This allows you to maximize your storage space, organize different types of documents, and include additional décor.

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Filing Cabinet Tips for a Large Office

Shared or Individual Filing

In large offices with many employees, consider if you need individual filing cabinets for each team member, larger shared units, or a combination of both. This decision may also come down to the layout of your building; cubicles or individual offices will require individual filing cabinets, likely smaller vertical units. An open-concept or shared office may benefit from one or two shared lateral file cabinets.

If opting for a shared unit, think of locking as a potential challenge – most locking filing cabinets are ideal for offices that require daily access to stored files, with their deeper drawers that can be organized from back to front for easier access to the timeliest documents.

Many Documents

In general, a larger office will likely house more files that require storage. Tall five-drawer vertical filing cabinets are ideal for offices that require daily access to stored files, with their deeper drawers that can be organized from back to front for easier access to the timeliest documents.

Safety & Security Considerations

Safe and secure filing systems are a high priority in legal offices, medical offices, and any instance where files contain sensitive information. Locks keep your files themselves secure, while workers can stay safe with the help of anti-tip mechanisms that level the cabinet’s base or allow for only one drawer to open at a time. There are many filing cabinets equipped with these security features.

Floor Plans & Other Large Documents

If your large-scale company keeps blueprints, floor plans, artwork, banners or other large files on hand, then a flat file cabinet is the way to go. Stack two flat file cabinets together for a taller modular unit, or place one atop your counter or desk for easy access. Some models have optional raised bases to keep them off the ground.

Filing Cabinet Tips for a Small Office

Shared Filing

Smaller offices with fewer employees could benefit from sharing one or two filing systems as an alternative to purchasing one unit per team member. If this is the case, you’ll likely want to opt for a four or five-drawer cabinet to accommodate those who need it. A lateral filing cabinet with hanging bars can help separate files if sharing a drawer.

Limited Space

Mobile filing cabinets offer the convenience of rolling them under desks, moving them as office space is re-configured, or re-locating them to a storage closet when full. For the office with limited floor space, this might be a good option. Vertical filing cabinets save wall space, however their drawers are deep and require enough space to open them fully.

Getting Creative

If your small office requires storage for more than just paper documents, get creative with your filing cabinet use. Take advantage of the secure storage space for small safes containing cheques or petty cash, office supplies, electronics or personal items. If you’re looking to store non-paper items, a lateral cabinet may provide easier organization than the deep drawers of a vertical filing cabinet.

Learn more about filing cabinets for compact spaces in this guide.

Key Questions

Now that you know the important features to consider when searching for filing cabinets for your office, answering the following questions should help you come to a decision with more certainty:

  • How big is my office or cubicle?
  • Does the layout of my office create more wall space or more floor space?
  • Do I need regular, long-term file storage?
  • What kinds of documents or items do I plan to store?
  • Do I require added security or safety features?
  • Will I eventually or regularly need to move the filing cabinet?
  • Does a traditional metal file cabinet fit in with my office décor?

No matter what style of office filing cabinet you choose for your business, researching your options and choosing the right model will make a world of difference in your storage and organization.

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