Google Collaborative Inbox: Why Your Teams Won't Like It

Luis Manjarrez
by Luis Manjarrez

At its core, email was designed to be addressed to a single individual, just like regular mail.

Google Groups collaboration inbox

But with more and more businesses starting to increase their online presence, catch-all email addresses (info@, sales@, support@) began to increase. And with no way to efficiently distribute the workload of these catch-all addresses, email quickly became a burden.

To resolve the problem, it wasn't uncommon to see people use the oldest hack in the book:

Sharing individual account passwords.

It might have worked very early on when online security was not a big thing for most organizations. But email providers, like Gmail, quickly started dissuading this practice by temporarily locking people's accounts when detecting multiple sign-ins to the same account.

As an alternative, Google offers Google Groups and its Collaborative Inbox.

But what is it exactly? And is it the solution you’re looking for?

Let's find out!

What is Google Collaborative Inbox?

Google Groups with Collaborative Inbox UI

Google Collaborative Inbox is a free feature of Google Groups available to businesses using Google Workspace (also known as G Suite). It can be used by teams to manage shared email accounts such as support@ or info@.

While not a complete shared inbox software solution, it offers more robust features than Gmail when it comes to email collaboration.

To simplify things, Google Collaborative Inbox is a shared email folder that members of a group can access through their own accounts.

The idea is that group members can access a shared email address securely. All members can email everyone in the group and can also allow external emails. They can assign conversations to different group members, mark the progress, create labels, and filter them.

It’s the simple evolution of a distribution list, allowing teams to somewhat collaborate around email.

What Are the Benefits of Collaborative Inbox?

Google Collaborative Inbox allows teams using Google Workspace to access a basic shared inbox without the need of other software.

It can be used to manage email addresses that need to be accessed by a group of people. The benefits of using Collaborative Inbox come mostly from the collaborative nature of the feature and not the tool itself.

Here are the benefits of a having a mailbox with collaboration functionalities:

  1. Better collaboration: Teams can access and respond to emails form a shared alias without the need to share credentials.
  2. Free for Google Workspace users: Collaborative Inbox is a free feature for business using Gmail to manage their emails.
  3. Assigning conversations: Collaborative Inbox enables group members to assign a conversation to a specific person simplifying team workflow.

What Are the Disadvantages of Collaborative Inbox in Google Groups?

Google Collaborative Inbox sounds great, but according to its users, the solution is complex to use yet limited in its features.

Your customer support and sales teams will certainly be the most impacted. Here are the most important ones:

1. Not Integrated Into Gmail

The UI is unfamiliar and doesn’t integrate into the Gmail inbox. So your team will have to shuffle between the two apps. It also means that you can manage all your email from one place.

2. No True Team Collaboration

You cannot easily discuss an issue with a coworker in the context of an email. You need to either forward emails, which will generate more emails, or use the built-in chat, but you will need to describe the problem since your message won't be in context.

3. Inadequate Accountability

Replies to customers are sent from the individual's account, not the group email address, so you always need to remember also to send them to the group address. Otherwise, teammates will no longer see that email. And if the customer forgets to "reply-all", the email will never show up in the group's inbox. Emails can easily fall through the cracks.

4. Ineffective Assignment & Visibility

If an email has been assigned to someone, other people won't see if others are already working on it, not until the reply is sent. This may lead to double responses, wasted time for your team, slower response time, and customers getting a negative impression of your organization.

5. Hard to Manage

There's no simple way for a manager to monitor emails from their team. Filtering is also a bit rudimentary, so important things might get easily overlooked.

You also need to switch between Gmail and the Google Groups UI to be on top of things. This also means that emails sent to the group address can't be read on mobile devices, because they cannot be accessed through a Gmail account or any other app.

6. No Automation

Creating automation rules that help your team triage emails faster is impossible. Everything needs to be done manually, which can lead to mistakes.

7. Zero Integrations

You can't centralize your team's communications. As we all know, customers nowadays contact organizations through various channels, like, Messenger, Instagram, SMS, etc.

To wrap things up, we could say that using Google's Collaborative Inbox is far from the right tool for the job. Lost emails, unclear ownership, unintuitive UI... Here's where Missive might prove to be an excellent weapon to keep in your arsenal.

How to Create a Google Group Collaborative Inbox?

You want to give Google Group Collaborative Inbox a shot?

Here’s how to (relatively) easily turn on the collaborative inbox features in Google Groups:

  1. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to create a group, select the group email you want, and add the members you want in that specific team.

  2. Once you have a group and are the admin, click on the Group in which you want to add the Collaborative Inbox

  3. On the left, click Group settings.

  4. In the Enable additional Google Groups features section, select Collaborative Inbox.

  5. Give at least one of the following permissions to the group members in order for them to access the collaborative inbox:

    • Moderate metadata: Take a conversation, assign or unassign a conversation, mark a conversation as completed
    • Moderate content: mark a conversation as duplicate, mark a conversation as no action needed

How to Manage a Collaborative Inbox in Google Groups?

Managing the workflow of a Collaborative Inbox inside Google Groups can be done in a few different ways. Depending on the permissions you gave to each team member they can use Google Groups features to manage the shared folder of email.

Assigning a Conversation

You can assign a conversation to any group member including yourself to manage messages and responsibilities. Conversations can be sorted based on their assignment status.

Resolving a Conversation

You can mark a conversation as complete, no action required, or as a duplicate. Right next to the subject will be the status of the conversation.

Categorizing a Conversation

You can organize your Collaborative Inbox by using labels on related conversations. Labels can be used in conversations no matter their assignment and resolution status.

What Are Your Alternatives?

Your best option when looking for an alternative to Google Groups’ Collaborative Inbox is dedicated email collaboration software for business.

While you have multiple options (refer to our top shared inbox software), we believe that this short list of alternatives are the ones that will check all the boxes to make your team love shared email.

1. Missive

Missive is a real collaborative inbox. It features team inboxes and chats that empower teams to collaborate not only around email but other channels of communication like SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, and live chat.

Missive was built with collaboration in mind.

The Team Inbox lets you collaborate with team members and assign them to conversation. It is useful for teams who want a "triage" step that will clean up messages for all coworkers at once.

It lets you communicate with coworkers right inside an email thread. You can also @mention a colleague and start a conversation, all without leaving the email in question.

With Missive, you can create sets of rules that automate actions; these can save time and spare support employees from doing repetitive tasks. For example, all refund-related emails can be automatically assigned to the Finance team or a specific employee.

Price: Price: Free for up to 2 shared accounts. Starting at $15/month for more.

2. Gmelius

This is a good alternative for users that want to keep on using Gmail. Gmailius is a Gmail add-on that brings shared inboxes directly to the web app. It comes with features like chats with your coworkers in an email thread, adding labels, and assigning team members to an email.

Gmailius also offer Kanban-style board for project management directly in Gmail.

Price: Start at $15/month

3. Hiver

Hiver is another solutions that is used on top of Gmail. This Chrome extension enables you to collaborate and manage your shared inbox in Gmail. It offers the standard shared inbox functionalities such as assigning people to a conversation and tagging emails and comments privately in a discussion.

Hiver also comes with features like task automation and analytics.

Price: Starting at $19/month.

4. Helpwise

Helpwise is a good alternative to Google Group Collaborative Inbox. It offers a shared inbox similar to Missive, with a way collaborate on a shared alias with a focus on shared accounts like SMS, social media, and live chat.

It also lets you add an assignee to a conversation, tag emails, and chat with your coworkers.

Price: Free for 1 shared account. Starting at $15/month for more.

5. Help Scout

Help Scout is primarily a helpdesk software, but it can double a good shared inbox solution with features like live chat, and a knowledge base.

With it, you can manage shared emails, assign people to a conversation, chat with teammates, and tag conversations.

Price: Starting at $25/month.

Don't get me wrong. Gmail is a great email client for individuals. But when it comes to shared inboxes and team collaboration, Missive helps your team keep their eyes on the ball and move toward inbox zero.


What Is a Collaborative Inbox?

Google Collaborative Inbox is a free feature of Google Groups that lets businesses using Google Workspace manage shared email addresses like support@ or info@ as a team.

What Is the Difference Between a Collaborative Inbox and a Shared Inbox?

A Collaborative Inbox is a feature of Google Groups that enables teams to collaborate on shared emails like info@. It acts as a shared folder where all emails from a shared alias go. It offers bare bones and basic shared inbox features.

Shared inboxes allow multiple coworkers to access email simultaneously. While each user maintains a personal account, their shared mailboxes can be accessed and managed by all.

Luis Manjarrez

Growth at Missive
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