Collaborative Inboxes

This month I’m writing about collaborative inboxes. These aren’t specific to Gmail, but that’s the context. Specifically, Gmail when it’s used in the context of Google Apps. If you’re a non-profit group and you haven’t signed up for G Suite for non-profits go to and signup. You get the entire Google Apps suite with email addresses, google drive, groups, etc. for free. You have to register first with, but the benefits are huge. And not limited to Google. There are many companies out there that provide inexpensive or free software and hardware to non-profits.

Okay, so now I’m assuming you are a G Suite user. The following applies if you’re a paid user or a non-profit user.

One of the big challenges with any organization that deals with the public or vendors or customers is the necessity of communicating by email. And the reality that rarely is a single person responsible for all the communication in an area. To the rescue comes G Suite Groups and Collaborative Inboxes.

Groups should be intuitively obvious. In a google group, you can add several users and any email sent to the group goes to all the users. This is super handy. Within any organization, you’re almost certain to have several people responsible for a particular area. Rather than adding everyone to the To: field or CC: field of an email – and running the risk of forgetting someone or adding the wrong person – you just add the group and the email goes to everyone. People can then reply to the group or just to you depending on what’s appropriate. Now everyone is up to speed.

Okay, so that works great internally. Even from the outside world, if you make the group able to receive emails from non-group members, others can send an email and everyone gets it. So, imagine you have a sales department. The sales department has many people and occasionally people move on and new people join. It makes no sense to have your customers emailing What happens when Deborah gets promoted to VP of Marketing? No, you want people to email But who gets that email? Why everyone in the sales group of course. Ta-da problem solved! Almost.

There are now two other problems to solve. The first is writing back to the customer as and the second is making sure someone does respond and that all the members of the group know that a response was or wasn’t sent. This is where collaborative inboxes come handy.

Collaborative inboxes have some nice features. You can use them to assign responsibility for specific topics to specific group members. You can mark topics as resolved. You can tag topics and then filter topics based on tags, resolution status, or assigned responsibility.

In a collaborative inbox, you get email as normal. To you, it just appears as a normal email arriving because you’re a member of a group. But the email has some other options. In the topic view, you can choose to take the topic to assign responsibility to yourself. Others reading this email will see that you are now responsible for the email. You can also assign it to another member of the group ( if you have permission ) and they will see that. You can mark the topic as complete, no action needed, or duplicate. Again, these status changes are visible to all. You can also apply tags to help organize the topics for your team.

Finally, you can filter the topics to find topics that no one has replied to, topics marked complete, topics assigned to you, etc. Handy.

You’ll have to get your G Suite Administrator to set up your group as a collaborative inbox if you want that. There are some permission settings as well that need to be checked, but it’s pretty straightforward to change. In the Groups view, choose Edit Settings for the group. Then choose Advanced Settings. Then under Information choose Advanced again. Finally, under Reset group Select the group type to be Collaborative Inbox. That’s pretty much it. Except for explaining all this to your new collaborative inbox members.