Shared team inboxes can be a very simple yet effective way to make it easier for your team to collaborate. If managed correctly, shared inboxes can be used to segment your conversations between different teams and functions, and can also be used to work around staff absences and unexpected technical issues.
Unfortunately, well-managed team inboxes are the exception rather than the rule. Though many organizations use at least one shared inbox, few managers know how to manage them, let alone get the most out of them.
In this guide, we’ll take you through the key techniques in managing shared inboxes, show you how to stay on top of problems as they arise, and ultimately make your teams more transparent, adaptive and effective.
1. Hold staff accountable
The ideal, when it comes to managing shared inboxes, is that all staff members will “pitch in” when they can, picking up the queries that they can best deal with and managing them through to conclusion. This is possible if you have a highly communicative team, or if your team members possess sophisticated ESP abilities.
For most teams, however, the story can be quite different. If no one is given ownership of an inbox, or charged with responsibility for responding to particular types of message, your system can all too easily break down into chaos.
Because of this, unfortunately, there is little alternative but for managers to explicitly assign responsibility for mailboxes, or at least certain types of query, to individual staff members. These staff members must then be held to account for their own work.
2. Monitor performance outside the (in)box
Secondly, this kind of monitoring should be done outside of the inbox itself. The system you choose for doing this will depend on your own preferences—it could be as simple as a piece of paper or as complex as a team wiki. Whichever method you choose, however, make sure you are able to track each interaction each member of your team has with each message.
If properly implemented, your team will thank you for setting up a system like this. Many employees are still using their email to organize their work, without realizing that their inbox is primarily a communications tool. Once they’ve seen that other, more productive ways of managing tasks are available, they'll be able to use your shared inbox more effectively.
3. Reply, reply, reply
Unanswered emails are a real problem for businesses: emails can frequently be time-critical and providing appropriate responses at the appropriate time is important.
For this reason, it’s important to make sure that you end every day (or at least every week) double-checking your team sent a response to every email you’ve received. Every. Single. One.
Depending on the size and complexity of your team, that might sound like an impossible target, but it can be easier than you think. For one thing, according to research 86% of office workers claim that email remains their favorite mode of business communication, which means that most team members should be more communicative via email than you may think.
For another, setting up automated replies is a key advantage for small businesses today, and even if you simply reply to acknowledge you’ve received a message and will respond in detail soon, this can go a long way toward building a relationship with your teams.
4. Use clear folders or labels
The terminology here can be a little confusing, because Gmail uses the term “labels” to refer to what most other systems implement as “folders”. But whatever you call these organization tools, their purpose is the same: to sort emails according to the type of question they're asking and who is responsible for them.
For this reason alone, you should be using these tools.
Note, however, that labels and folders also have a number of other advantages, in addition to making sure that everyone knows who an email is assigned to. By using labels for the different types of queries you receive, you can easily track how many of each type you are getting and seek to reduce that number (see below).
5. Lock Down Security
It should go without saying that if you are running a “shared inbox” via the simple process of giving everyone on your team the same login details, you are doing it wrong. Even if every team member has the best intentions, using shared logins increases your likelihood of stolen or mismanaged credentials, putting your organization's security at risk.
Instead, do it properly. Give everyone their own login credentials. Most quality email providers will offer you a system where you can give multiple accounts access to the same inbox, and this allows you to both keep your shared inbox secure and also monitor the way team members are using it.
Furthermore, make sure you always use encryption for handling business emails, which prevents hackers from reading or viewing your messages and communications. To ensure your email messages are encrypted, you’ll need to rely on a secure, multipurpose email extension, which means that public key encryption permits email servers to send unreadable encrypted messages instead of text ones.
6. Analyze Your Messages
A slightly more complex process—but one that can be very valuable for managers of large teams—is to regularly and systematically analyze the messages you are receiving and draw up reports on this data.
Run through this process, and you’re likely to immediately see ways your systems can be improved. The number of staff you have managing each type of query should match the volume of that type, for instance, but this can be hard to achieve without thorough monitoring.
7. Always Follow Up
Finally, bear in mind that your shared email inbox is not just for fighting fires. Most organizations will use inboxes like this to manage client complaints, for instance, because they can be used to draw together all the key staff members who might need to be involved to resolve these queries. However, even complaints can act as a valuable way to build a relationship with your team.
An easy and effective way of doing this is to schedule follow-up emails with your teams. A quick message, a week after a problem has been resolved, not only acts to reiterate your commitment to them– it can also generate useful learning points for your entire team as well.
The Bottom Line
With these processes and tools in place, there is no reason why using a shared inbox cannot be a success. Without them, however, such experiments can easily end in chaos.
Ultimately, you should also recognize that you are not on your own. Systems like Zoho TeamInbox can help you to keep your team organized, on track, and even produce statistics on your organization's performance.
Author bio: Gary Stevens
Gary Stevens is the CTO of Hosting Canada, a website that expertly reviews hosting services to help readers build online businesses and blogs.