Microsoft Office 365 offers several options to work email as a team. The two most popular methods being distribution groups and shared mailboxes.

Distribution Group

A distribution group is a collection of two or more people’s email addresses. When an email message is sent to a distribution group that email goes to all members of the group.

Distribution groups are an easy way to send an email to lots of people at once and one major benefit is the email will be seen by everyone. This makes them a great tool for sending notifications department or organization wide.

But in a team email setting everyone seeing every email is inefficient – why look at an email that you won’t be answering?

Most teams rely on visibility and collaboration in order to be productive handling email.

Team visibility using a distribution group is essentially zero. An incoming customer email goes to everyone on the group list, however there Is no way to tell which group member is working the message. Group members may copy the distribution list when replying to the customer to let the rest of the group know it’s handled but that adds to the inbox congestion and is not a reliable course of action for several reasons:

1. Multiple group members may work the same message causing duplication of effort.

2. The customer may receive multiple replies to their email – which can be problematic for a variety of reasons: replies contradict each other, offer different terms or answers. Creating confusion for the customer. 

3. The customer may follow up with the group member by contacting their personal email address, which can create visibility issues and slower replies during vacations or with a workforce on shifts.

Collaboration is possible but very messy, requiring fwd’s and cc’s to the distribution group, leading to long, fragmented threads containing both internal comments and the customer conversation.

Shared Mailbox

A shared mailbox is an inbox that can be accessed by multiple people. Users that are a part of the shared mailbox can send email as the shared mailbox address, such as

A shared mailbox is well suited for a team setting as there is only 1 copy of the customers email and its location is centralized in a shared inbox.

Team visibility is still a challenge as although emails are centralized anyone can work them and it’s difficult to tell who is working on what. Typically, a colour coding system with categories to identify team member responsibilities is used to avoid team members working the same message. This can be a viable solution for low volume mailboxes; however, this is a manual process undertaken for each email which can become a full-time job for teams receiving a higher volume of email.

A drawback of a centralized inbox (even if you are using colour coding) is that team members must now spend time searching the inbox to find messages that have been categorized/assigned to them.

Creating sub-folders for team members within the shared mailbox can be used to increase team visibility as an alternative to using categories. The challenge with this technique is emails may be misplaced or accidentally deleted when moving them between folders. Just like using categories, using sub-folders is a manual process that can add up to a lot of time spent “managing” email instead of replying to customers.

Collaboration is just as messy with a shared mailbox, requiring the same fwd’s, cc’s which result again in confusing threads containing internal comments and the customer conversation.

We believe shared mailboxes are the best option for team email as work is centralized in a single inbox, there is only one copy of the message and categorization can be a manageable option to increase visibility for small teams with low email volumes.

For team collaboration, distribution groups and shared mailboxes are similarly lacking.

For a scalable team inbox tool that extends visibility and makes team collaboration easy check out our home page to learn how you can supercharge your shared mailbox experience!