Despite a million other collaboration tools that have been created, adopted, and grown since email launched in the 1970s, email is still the primary communication channel for the vast majority of knowledge workers.
Email was built as a 1-on-1 communication tool, it was never built for team members to collaborate. To this day, email by itself is lacking in terms of team collaboration.
Before we deep dive, let's look at the current state of email collaboration.
What is a collaboration email?
To be able to collaborate on email, teams usually create group emails such as sales@ or firstname.lastname@example.org so they can handle incoming emails collectively and share the workload, in order to provide a faster response time. However, collaboration emails tend to lack transparency on who's working on what, and can become very cumbersome to manage.
Most common collaboration email use cases
A collaborative email like sales@, billing@ or info@ can be set in 3 different ways:
- A separate email account / inbox - each team member has to log in on a separate tab (by unsafely sharing passwords)
- An email alias - you create an alias such as “email@example.com” and have it forwarded to multiple email addresses. It acts as a catch-all to forward emails to multiple people
- A Google Group - similar to the alias, members of the group get notified of incoming emails. They can also manage them in the Google Groups interface. Google Groups offer a "collaborative inbox" functionality allowing for basic email assignment and status updates inside Google Groups (outside of your inbox).
In all of the above cases, knowing who read, who is working on, or who already replied to each email is difficult. It requires a lot of guessing, tab switching, and takes time away from actual work. The lack of transparency and ownership leads to errors like double replies or emails slipping through the cracks. .
Most common email collaboration pitfalls
What are some specific examples of this?
- Shared inbox email aliases — sales@, contact@, support@ — can’t display emails in an inbox, they can only forward them to team members.
- Multiple people can’t easily track multiple email threads. Yes you can cc: a few people, but what if sales management wants to see how various reps are doing? It doesn’t make sense for them to be cc:ed on every email.
- You can’t exchange private notes about an email with your coworkers.
- You can’t easily delegate email responses, again, without copying multiple people over and over again. For teams that use shared inboxes like sales@ or support@, cc:ing coworkers is impractical, so they resort to expensive and bulky help desk software. (Why can’t this be done by default in your inbox?)
- You can’t easily assign tasks and track progress
Since these things can’t be done with email by default, companies end up buying different software options to handle these various needs: project management software for delegation and task tracking, instant messaging for private notes, help desk software for handling a shared inbox, etc.
But this causes another problem: information is scattered. Where did you agree to that one task? Where did your coworker send you that link you need? Where can you track the status of a deal you’re working on?
Keys to a Better Email Collaboration Tool
If email collaboration is going to catch up to modern work processes, it’s going to need a serious overhaul. We’ve identified some key aspects that are vital for team members to collaborate around email and detailed them below. These foundational collaboration features are a direct result of the problems we wanted to solve with Gmelius.
Work as a Team by Sharing an Inbox
The first aspect of a great email collaboration tool is a shared inbox. Email hosts like Gmail have only partially solved this problem with aliases. An alias works great if you want multiple team members to receive an email, but if you want to do anything more — such as following up after the email, or delegating a task from these emails — you’re going to need something more robust.
Sales managers, for example, aren’t able to delegate inbound leads to their team with confidence from a sales@ email account. They routinely tell us how leads are followed up but then forgotten because they aren’t part of someone’s actual inbox. In Gmelius, we built a shared inbox where you can keep track of your team’s follow up without wondering if a prospect has been neglected.
A shared inbox in Gmelius can also act as a ticketing system. For teams that need that sort of functionality (not just support teams, but any organization where multiple members can and do respond to inbound emails), support software and help desks are complex to use, not to mention expensive.
The vast majority of support teams use email to communicate with customers, so we decided the ideal place to manage tickets or support requests is within email. Larger help desk systems can be so full of features that it takes months or even years to set up correctly, but a shared inbox gives you the advantages of email collaboration without the overhead of a complicated software. An example of this is creating an inbox with your “support@” email and managing all incoming customer requests without changing tabs.
These are just a couple use cases that are possible with a shared inbox, but the point is, having the ability for multiple members of a team to interact with a single inbox and delegate, assign, and follow up from there is transformative for email collaboration and team workflows.
But a shared inbox is just one possible idea for team collaboration. Next, let’s talk about using shared labels for further organization.
Shared Labels “De-Clutter” Your Inbox
Sharing an email by cc:ing and forwarding is what most teams do in order to keep each other informed of different conversations. But getting copied on all of your team’s emails is impractical. Teams that rely on forwarding and cc:ing emails back and forth end up with thousands of emails in their inbox. In this process, finding conversations related to a particular client is nearly impossible. This is why we built a shared label into Gmelius.
Shared labels allow you, as an agency, to track all client communication in one single place. As you can see in the screenshot above, you can label an email with a specific client and the conversation will be synced to the shared label and viewable by anyone you give access to. Next time an employee gets sick or is on vacation, you can head over to the shared label to view all recent communication with the client and pick up where they left off.
That is real email collaboration.
One of the biggest problems we heard from sales managers was trying to stay up-to-date on a team’s pipeline. Aside from being cc:ed on every email your team sends, sales managers revert to overly complicated CRMs. Assuming your sales reps actually remember to update the CRM, you still have information in different places, navigating back and forth to find the most recent communication.
Create shared labels for your team based on region, deal size, or even salesperson, to make sure potential sales aren’t slipping through the cracks.
Delegation: Sync Tasks Across Your Team
To truly collaborate around email, teams need to be able to delegate tasks on the emails they receive. Many teams frequently do this by resorting to another email or adding yet another tool for task management.
When delegating an email by forwarding it to a team member, you only raise more questions. How do you track who you’ve delegated tasks to? How do you know if it gets done? How do they keep track of it? Typically you have no idea if it gets done because they are tracking it in their own personal tool, and you have no visibility of what you’ve delegated. Sending more emails isn’t the answer, and adding more online collaboration tools only complicates the process.
Delegation in Gmelius is as simple as selecting the name of the teammate you want to pass it over to — as seen in the screenshot above. Your teammate will then be automatically notified and have the entire email conversation synced to their inbox. When you assign an email, your teammate’s replies are automatically synced to your inbox, too. This allows you to stay in the loop on all future communication. You’ll also be able to see any tracking information associated with the emails.
Gmelius Is a Kanban Board + Lightweight Project Management Within Your Email
Delegating is one thing, but modern work teams need to keep track of delegated tasks, discuss them, and update their status. To do this, teams typically use tools like Basecamp, Asana, or Trello, but dismiss email as a simple communication tool. The problem with using these tools and email is that information is now in disparate places, making it annoying and inefficient.
We saw an opportunity to build a lightweight project management tool in the form of a Kanban board. Most modern worker’s tasks come from email, so we wanted to manage them within Gmail.
Copying and pasting tasks from email into project management tools ends up requiring double the work while using two tools. Plus, the tools don’t automatically integrate and update information, so conversations start to happen in multiple places. There is no confidence that your "to-do list" will be tackled since everything lives in different tools. The Gmelius Kanban board shown above allows you to create a task from an email, assign it, and track it throughout the process. We built even more detail into the tasks by adding notes, due dates, and other details relevant to collaborating as a team. Your crowded inbox then turns into an organized and trackable project management tool.
Email Notes Are Private Conversations for You and Your Team
Nobody likes airing their dirty laundry. In email alone, private conversations must happen in separate emails, leading to multiple threads and no context into what you’re discussing. We wanted a way for teammates to communicate while being able to discuss sensitive matters privately. Even project management tools don’t have the ability to hide these conversations, so everyone ends up seeing it, whether you want them to or not.
Email notes in Gmelius are displayed right next to the email thread, giving you quick context into the discussion. We removed the need to go hunting in Slack or another tool to find the information. All the notes are organized and available when you need them.
Level Up Email Collaboration
Imagine the perfect email collaboration experience: sharing private notes about a lead, delegating support tasks, and teamwork around a shared inbox. Plus, everything is done in real-time. Now, imagine if you could have this collaboration — without even leaving your inbox? We built Gmelius as an email collaboration software that lives inside your inbox. Gmelius powers-up email to become the collaboration tool we always wanted to solve our problems.
All of our conversations with sales managers, agencies, and customer support teams led us to build these key features for Gmelius. We hoped to build something vastly different from the generic tools that are available, and we think we have. If you’re like most people and spend a majority of your day in your inbox trying to collaborate with other team members, we want you to see what is possible with Gmelius. Try it for free and see “powered-up” email for yourself.