For many of us, the absolute mess of a shared workplace email address is all too familiar. Ideally, a shared email address allows for increased employee privacy, reduced response time, and a more streamlined, professional look for your website or company. But in reality, emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, be read by the wrong person, or not be read at all. Fortunately, there are some simple solutions to avoid the chaos.
What Is a Shared Email Address?
A shared email account is an account used by multiple members of a company or organization. It's a particularly popular option for customer service, because it allows customers to get in contact with the whole team at your company through a single address and eliminates the need to use individual or personal email addresses.
Even if customer service isn't your primary interest, a shared email address can still deliver benefits for productivity and workflow. With a shared email address, everyone on the team can have instant, simultaneous access to all necessary resources and communications, making tedious and time-consuming email forwarding a thing of the past.
Common Types of Shared Email
There are three basic types of shared email accounts, and each has pros and cons for different types of businesses.
Shared Email Address
A shared email address is a regular email account to which multiple users have access. For example, let's say [email protected] is your email address, which six people have the password information to and are actively using.
Arguably the biggest benefit of a shared email address is that it allows multiple users to read and send emails from the same address. This is a particularly attractive option for smaller companies, because it's very low-cost (or even free) and can improve workplace communication.
However, it does have downsides. The first one is volume: in the U.S, employees have an average of 199 unread emails in their inbox at any given time. If all communication is going to a shared email address rather than individual addresses, things are bound to get crowded. Multiple people replying to the same email chain will further clog things up, creating a potential for misunderstandings. A possible option for avoiding this confusion is to set up role-based email addresses.
Second, it can be difficult to know which emails have already been responded to and which haven't without checking the 'sent' folder every time, which is tedious and impractical.
Finally, security issues are more likely to arise with more people having access to the account's login information.
A shared mailbox is an email account that can be accessed by multiple users. It doesn't have a username or password; instead, users have to be invited and granted full access permissions. The email address is not connected to a specific user account, but anyone granted full permission can log in using their own credentials (their personal email address) and send emails. These emails will be received as sent from the shared mailbox, rather than from any individual user.
Many shared mailboxes also offer advanced collaboration tools and may be the best option for larger companies or groups. With the right planning, it's possible to carefully organize a shared mailbox and see what other users have already done, thus minimizing the risk of duplicate replies. Shared mailboxes can also include tools for streamlining work, such as a shared calendar for scheduling meetings, work hours, etc.
While not technically a shared address, a distribution list allows you to send emails to multiple users without having to enter each individual email address. In other words, an email that is intended for 50 employees can reach each of them without 50 email addresses needing to be entered. It’s easy to set up a distribution list, but it has a major setback: email recipients can’t see if another recipient has already responded to a particular email.
This may not matter for smaller companies, but it has the potential to create chaos for larger companies. Multiple responses to the same client’s email looks unprofessional, and with a distribution list, there is no built-in way to avoid this.
Sharing an Email Address: Tips and Etiquette
Any time you have multiple users sharing the same inbox or address, there’s the potential for things to get hectic. However, by instituting clear rules of etiquette and responsibility, it’s absolutely possible to use a shared email address to actually improve workplace communication and customer satisfaction.
Tip One: Accountability
Things are liable to get out of control pretty quickly if no one knows exactly which emails they are accountable for and which ones are the responsibility of their coworkers. If clear rules aren’t established early on, emails are very likely to receive multiple responses; or worse, to slip through the cracks.
There are many different ways to divide responsibility. If you have employees living in different time zones, for example, then making them responsible only for queries that come during specific hours is a good option. Assigning responsibility based on specialty or type of request is another option, as is assigning emails to individualized folders for each employee.
Whichever way it makes sense for your company, the most important thing is to make sure that everyone knows exactly what they are accountable for responding to.
Tip Two: Folders Are Your Friend
Organize, organize, organize. Perhaps the single best way to avoid email-related workplace confusion is to make sure that all incoming emails are immediately sorted into different folders. These are called ‘labels’ in Gmail, and they allow you to keep track of what’s in progress, what has already been done, and what is still waiting to be handled.
Similarly, you could also sort folders by topic or - as we discussed above - by whoever is responsible for responding to them.
Tip Three: Don’t Miss Emails
We know it seems obvious, and we’ve basically said it already. Why say it again?
If a customer is emailing you, there’s a chance it’s because they’re unhappy with something or need assistance quickly. Good businesses are based on customer trust, which is hard to gain and easy to lose.
Regardless of how you decide to organize your shared inbox, make sure that the goal at the end of every day is to have every email accounted for and responded to. In addition to keeping your customers happy, a nice clean inbox at the end of the day is a good way to measure productivity.
Tip Four: Use an Email Forwarding Service
If you have multiple websites, it can be even harder to keep track of all your email correspondences. Fortunately, an email forwarding service (like ForwardMX) can help streamline your workday by forwarding all your emails to a single inbox. This means that emails sent to any of your email addresses will automatically be forwarded to one centralized inbox.
Being able to access all your emails in one place is a huge timesaver, and lowers the chances of any important correspondence getting lost in the shuffle.
Tip Five: Ensure Customer Security
With multiple people using the same email address or mailbox, there’s naturally an increased security risk. Protecting clients’ data is a top priority for all reputable websites, and it’s worth making sure that everyone with access to the email account understands best practices for customer privacy. For example, no passwords written on random scraps of paper or saved in a folder labeled ‘passwords’.
Additionally, it pays to be vigilant about using secure Wi-Fi networks and changing the password frequently.
Tip Six: Be Kind
You know the saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? It’s a good life lesson, and also a good guideline for your inbox. In any work environment, mistakes are bound to happen, and while it’s important to maintain a high standard of personal accountability and professionalism, it’s also important to create a safe, positive work environment.
With your coworkers, try to avoid terse or sarcastic remarks, as these can come across as much harsher than intended in an email. With customers, always keep a polite and cheerful tone (no matter how annoying they’re being), and follow up to make sure they’re satisfied with the response they’ve gotten.
No matter whether you’re managing a portfolio of websites, an online company, or a start-up with just a few employees, email is bound to be a big part of your workday. Shared email accounts are becoming the standard in most workplaces, and there are multiple options for what this can look like, each with its own pros and cons.
Regardless of your setup, having clearly stated rules and expectations for organization, accountability, and personal conduct can make a huge difference for team members and customers alike.