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Google Collaborative Inbox: Pros + Cons + Alternatives

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Google Collaborative Inbox: Pros + Cons + Alternatives

Jul 11, 2024
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11 min read
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There’s no doubt that email is a great platform for one-to-one business communication. But, have you used email for collaborative work?

Have you and your team used email to manage group inboxes such as [email protected] or [email protected]?

If yes, you’d have noticed that email can be a letdown in such scenarios. It lacks basic collaborative features such as assigning and tracking the progress of tasks.

Companies that are on Google Workspace turn to Google Collaborative Inbox when they hit this roadblock. Why? Because it’s a Google product and it’s built to help teams collaborate without leaving the Google ecosystem.

So, let’s dive in and find out more about the Google Collaborative Inbox – its pros, cons, and the best alternative to this platform.

Table of Contents

What is Google Collaborative Inbox in Google Groups?

Google Groups Collaborative Inbox is a tool made by Google to help teams handle emails (from customers, vendors, and employees, for instance) sent to group addresses like info@ or support@. It’s useful because it’s designed for teamwork, unlike regular email services like Gmail, where you need to depend on CCs, BCCs, and forwards to collaborate.

For instance, if a customer sends an email to [email protected], a Google Collaborative Inbox will ensure that everyone in your team has access to this email. You can also assign this email to someone and track its status.

Many Google Workspace admins prefer using the Google Collaborative Inbox because it gives visibility into email queries, and helps their teams promptly to these queries.

Here’s a simple guide on how to set up a Collaborative Inbox for your team:

Step 1: Create Your Group

  • Start by creating a new google group. 
  • Add members to the group who will be responsible for working on incoming emails. For instance, you can add all support team members if you’re creating a group for managing customer inquiries.

Step 2: Activate Collaborative Inbox Features

  • Sign into Google Groups and select your group.
  • Navigate to ‘Group settings’ on the left-hand side.
  • Under ‘Enable additional Google Groups features’, choose ‘Collaborative Inbox’.
  • Turn on conversation history (see ‘Turn conversation history on or off’ for more details).

Step 3: Set Permissions

  • Assign the appropriate permissions to group members so they can manage emails effectively.
  • Permissions include assigning or unassigning conversations, marking emails as completed, or identifying duplicate emails, among other tasks.

The pros of using Google Collaborative Inbox

  • For starters, it’s free for all Google Workspace subscribers.
  • It takes less than five minutes to set up.
  • Members can assign conversations to other members or themselves.
  • Group owners can set different permission levels for team members to view, post and edit content.
  • Members can also categorize and label conversations by enabling the shared labels feature.
The best alternative to Google Collaborative InboxTry it for free

The cons of using Google Collaborative Inbox

Despite the benefits mentioned above, the Google Collaborative Inbox can be rather limiting for slightly larger teams – like Sales and Customer Support – wanting to achieve more than just collaboration.

1. Google Collaborative Inbox’s interface is complex to navigate

The Google Collaborative Inbox UI looks nothing like Gmail. It was not designed to work as an email client in the first place. It’s an entirely new interface that looks completely different from any other Google application.

Google Collaborative Inbox interface
Google Groups Collaborative Inbox UI

Your team will have to spend a lot of time just getting used to it. The UI is not intuitive like Gmail (I love Gmail. I am sure you do too!).

On top of that, they will have to keep swapping between their Gmail inbox and the Google Collaborative Inbox — there is a good chance a few emails will fall through the cracks.

Switching inboxes is also a big distraction for your team. And according to this study, the cost of distraction is huge:

Distraction due to switching inboxes
The cost of distraction during work

2. There is no way to sync your emails seamlessly

When your team uses Google Collaborative inbox for a scenario like, say, customer support, ensuring that your emails are always synced and up-to-date is of utmost importance.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen with the Google Collaborative Inbox. To maintain inbox sync, your team members would have to always remember to CC the Google Collaborative inbox email ID while replying to their customers.

If they skip doing this or even inadvertently forget to do this, theemail will not show up in the Collab inbox. And this could be a critical point of failure because your team members won’t even know of the existence of these emails.

This, of course, would lead to a loss of accountability and perhaps a barrage of unhappy customers.

How to Set Up A Collaborative Inbox in Gmail

3. Internal communication becomes a hassle

No matter which team you are a part of – sales or customer service, seamless team collaboration is crucial to getting work done effectively.

Sometimes you’ll even have to collaborate with other departments for various reasons. However, for Google’s Collaborative Inbox users, neither internal nor cross-functional collaboration is easy. You mostly have to rely on long email threads, CCs, and forwards. Too many emails!

4. You will have a hard time finding the status of emails

Let’s assume you’re doing customer support from Gmail, and you start using the Google Collaborative Inbox.

An email arrives, and one of your teammates replies to the customer from their personal inbox. Unless that person has copied the group email address in the reply, you will not be aware of that. Nobody on the team will know that the email has been replied to.

Let’s say that person did remember to copy the group email address in the reply, but the customer does a ‘reply’ and not ‘reply all’ — it again comes to just one person.

You and the rest of the team will always be in the dark about the status of emails.

5. There’s enormous room for duplication of work

When you and your team don’t know if an email has been replied to, there is a good chance someone else might start working on it.

Imagine you’re running a sales team using the Collaborative Inbox in Google Workspace, and two sales executives end up replying to the same prospect. You’ve ruined your first impression right there. For all you know, you’d lose the client for being unprofessional.

The same applies to customer support teams. An email arrives, and two people start working on it at the same time. And then, both of them reply to the same customer — you’re essentially saying the same thing to the customer twice.

Even when you’ve assigned the email to an individual, the rest of the team would not know about it. To them, the email looks unattended unless they see a reply.

Recommended read: Shared Inbox: Benefits, Tools, and Best Practices

6. You will have to deal with a lot more emails

A good team tool should make it easy for people to communicate and collaborate. They should be able to exchange information without writing more emails.

But, inside a Google Collaborative Inbox, the only way to communicate with a teammate is by writing more emails.

Have a question to ask? Send an email, and you get a reply via email. Have a status update to ask? Send an email, and you again get a reply via email.

Basically, when you use the Google Collaborative Inbox, the only way you can exchange information with someone is by email — which unnecessarily clogs up everyone’s inboxes and slows down teamwork.

19 ways to manage emails

7. You’ll not be able to measure team performance

When you run your support or sales from the Google Collaborative Inbox, it is absolutely important that you know how well is the team dealing with emails.

Inside a Google Collaborative Inbox, if you’re looking to monitor team performance, all you’d know is the number of emails received and sent.

You have no way of knowing how your team deals with emails. For example, if you use the Google Collaborative Inbox to manage support, you will have no answers to (a) the average first response time, (b) the average time to close a ticket, or (c) who in your team needs more training.

Running support or sales without knowing how well your team manages emails is like driving a car with your eyes shut.

Well, the hard truth is that the Google Collaborative Inbox is completely unsuited for doing sales or support or anything that requires your team to collaborate.

And that is why we built Hiver.

How Hiver helps you achieve seamless team collaboration

Hiver has an answer to every Google Collaborative Inbox shortcoming. Allow me to run you through them.

1. Manage shared email accounts right from Gmail

When you use Hiver, you can create shared inboxes for your email accounts, such as support@, sales@, or info@.

And you can manage these shared inboxes from your Gmail inbox itself. You will no longer have to log into an alien interface like the Google Collaborative Inbox.

Hiver's shared inbox tool
You can use Hiver’s shared inboxes right from Gmail

You’d love this: When you use Hiver, there’s no limit to the number of users you can add to a shared inbox. Google, otherwise, does not allow more than 25 users to access a shared Gmail account.

2. Effortlessly delegate emails to your team (without forwarding)

Hiver lets you delegate emails to your teammates without having to forward them. All it takes is two clicks from the Gmail sidebar.

Your teammate can start replying to that email thread the moment you assign it to them. You do not even have to CC them.

Take an interactive tour of Hiver

3. Know email status in a jiffy

Every time you want to know what happened to an email you had assigned to someone, you will not have to send another email reminder.

Hiver tells you the status of every email in your shared mailbox: open, pending, or closed. It is again visible to everyone who is a part of the shared inbox.

Unlike the Collaborative Inbox, you will have access to replies your team sends even when you’re not copied on them.

4. Prevent ugly collisions and work duplication

When you assign an email to someone, everyone who is a part of that shared inbox can see that. The entire team will clearly know WHO is working on WHAT.

Inside a Hiver shared inbox, emails are classified into distinct groups: unassigned, mine, team, pending, and closed.

When you enter a shared inbox, the default view is ‘unassigned,’ which will only contain emails that nobody has started working on. You can go ahead and assign them to your team.

There is no room for confusion or duplication of work.

collision alerts for shared inbox
With Hiver’s Collision Alerts, you can avoid confusion or duplication of work

5. Make internal discussions easy

Hiver lets your team communicate with each other using Email Notes, which are like chat messages that appear right beside the email thread.

Email notes for Hiver
Use Hiver’s Email Notes to give context to team members regarding a task

Using notes, you can communicate with anyone across your company. Notes come in handy for a host of things:

  • You want to broadcast a question to everyone in your team. Start the note with ‘@all’, and anyone in the group can now reply to your note.
  • You want to reach out to a specific person. Start the note with @name, and only that person will get notified. You can then exchange messages with that person like you would on personal chat.
  • You want to add some context or learning to the email which you think might come in handy in the future. Just write it down as a note, and it will stay alongside the email.

Basically, you and your team write fewer emails when you use Hiver’s Notes. You can completely eliminate internal emails if you use Notes the right way.

How to Use Google Groups for Effective Business Collaboration

6. Harness the power of reporting and analytics

When you run sales or customer service from Gmail, it is absolutely pertinent that you keep a keen eye on how well your team is dealing with emails.

Inside Hiver’s analytics, you have access to all vital customer support metrics (right inside your inbox).

Hiver Analytics to track performance
You can track your team’s performance with Hiver’s Analytics

And a lot more!

With Hiver, you also get the ability to:

  • Automate key actions like assigning emails and live chat messages based on preset rules.
  • Save combinations of email filters as views (such as all emails from Austria that Cynthia is yet to work on).
  • Save canned responses as email templates. Share them with your team to provide faster resolutions.
  • Collaborate on your email responses by sharing email drafts. Write a response, and have a colleague review it in real time.
  • Integrate apps like Slack, Asana, and Zapier and enhance productivity.

Other Alternatives to Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

Each of the following tools offers unique features that can help manage group emails effectively.

1. Microsoft Outlook Shared Mailbox

Microsoft Outlook Shared Mailbox is perfect for teams looking for a seamless way to manage common email addresses like [email protected] within Outlook. This tool integrates into the Microsoft ecosystem, making it an excellent choice for those already using Office 365. It simplifies managing customer inquiries and internal communications without requiring separate logins for each user.

Microsoft Outlook Shared Mailbox
Shared Mailbox in Microsoft Outlook

Key Features:

  • Unified Access: Users can send and receive emails from a single address, which helps in maintaining consistency in communication.
  • No Extra Cost: Available at no additional cost to Office 365 business subscribers.
  • Central Email Repository: All members can view and manage emails, ensuring transparency and efficiency.

2. Zendesk

Zendesk offers a platform to manage customer queries but can also be used by other teams such as HR and IT to help them handle group emails. It turns emails into support tickets, making it easier to track and resolve issues systematically. This tool is ideal for teams needing to manage a high volume of emails daily.

Zendesk - Managing customer queries platform
Zendesk 

Key Features:

  • Ticketing System: Automatically converts email queries into tickets. Teams get complete visibility into the status of all emails, and who is handling what. 
  • Analytics Dashboard: Monitor and analyze team performance in handling emails. Get insights on response and resolution time, and other key metrics.
  • Scalable Features: Equipped to handle large teams and a high email volume, making it suitable for growing companies.

3. Front

Front offers a collaborative platform to manage emails – and it’s interface is very similar to that of any inbox. Teams can share, assign, and collaborate on emails with ease. This is especially useful for those that want to avoid using CCs and BCCs in emails, which lead to clutter.

Front - collaborative platform to manage emails
Front 

Key Features:

  • Shared Inboxes: Teams can easily access emails in inboxes such as info@ and support@. No communication slips through the cracks.
  • Internal Communications: Team members can comment on emails to set context or get inputs. It’s a faster way to collaborate. 
  • Integration Capabilities: Easily integrates with other tools like Salesforce and Asana, enhancing workflow automation.

4. Help Scout

Help Scout is tailored for customer support but is effective for any team that uses email to handle inquiries. It’s user-friendly interface ensures teams can get started without much hassle. Help Scout also offers powerful collaboration features that help multiple team members to work together on customer, vendor, and employee communication.

Help Scout customer support tool
Help Scout 

Key Features:

  • Efficient Ticketing: Convert incoming emails into tickets to help your team organize and track workload. 
  • Collision Detection: Prevents multiple agents from responding to the same query, reducing confusion and duplicate responses.
  • AI Summarize: This AI feature quickly generates bullet point summaries of lengthy email threads, enhancing efficiency for service teams. It is accessible to users on Plus and Pro plans, with the exception of those requiring HIPAA compliance.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Google Collaborative Inbox might not cut it if you’re using it for teams like sales and customer support. You need a tool that offers:

  • An intuitive user interface
  • Powerful collaboration features
  • Complete visibility into everyday workload
  • Insights into team performance

If you’re willing to give Hiver a shot and would like to learn how you can best manage shared inboxes, sign up for a 7-day free trial. 

Harsh is the content lead at Hiver. He's jocular, loves dogs, and is always up for a road trip. He also reads - when Netflix gets boring.

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