Outlook Shared Mailbox Best Practices and Limitations for Collaboration

Much of your company's communication with customers is via email. Customers often inform you of issues by sending an email to your company's role-based address (often called team, shared, or group address) and would like to get a prompt and helpful response. While your company is small and you have a limited number of emails coming in, you can manage your email without a well-thought-out strategy but as your business grows, you need more team members to be able to keep up with all the messages. However, email is not designed to be used collaboratively, so you now need a tool for your whole team to be able to read and reply from the same address as sharing credentials for the same account is insecure. Two popular options for managing a role-based address in Outlook are Outlook Shared Mailbox and Microsoft 365 Groups. In this article, we explore best practices and limitations for Outlook Shared Mailbox.

What is Outlook Shared Mailbox

Outlook Shared Mailbox behaves just like an ordinary mailbox that multiple people can access and write from. A Shared Mailbox can be added to a user profile so that they wouldn't need to switch between their own address and role-based addresses. Accessing a shared mailbox from a user profile loses some features, to use the full functionality of Shared Mailbox, you must open it via its own profile.

Best practices for better collaboration

With many users reading and replying to the same emails, mistakes are easy to make. Teammates each need to work out for themselves if each email is relevant to them, thus wasting time. If your Shared Mailbox receives a lot of mail, it quickly becomes difficult to navigate. Emails may then get lost, and customers will be left feeling dissatisfied. Therefore, we recommend adhering to the following best practices to keep your Shared Mailbox organized.

Assign emails

With a small team you may be able to divide emails they are responsible for without a laid-out system but in a large team having each member independently work out if an email is relevant to them wastes a lot of time and causes confusion. It is best to have clear roles and responsibilities for your team. We would like to assign email and have each team member's assigned emails neatly organized and easily findable. Then we don't need everyone to sort through the company's entire mailbox to find email relevant to them and we can tell easily if someone is working on an email.

Shared Mailbox has no built-in assignment system but thanks to folders, we can institute a policy for assigning emails by creating a folder for each user. Now, we can assign by moving an email into a user's folder. In this way the shared inbox will be kept free of assigned emails while at the same time emails can be easily found by assignee.

SBX enables you to assign emails via a dropdown menu without the hassle of creating folders.

Mark emails as resolved

Resolved emails should be separated from the list of unresolved emails so that old emails aren't cluttering your inbox. However, deleting resolved emails is not a good option as you may still need to reference resolved issues in the future.

In Shared Mailbox it is best to archive resolved emails (move to archived folder).

SBX adds an open / closed status for each email that you can use to mark emails as unresolved / resolved. In addition, SBX keeps an activity log so you know who and when closed or re-opened an email.

Prioritize emails

Some email you receive will be very important or urgent. Assign priorities emails to let your team know which emails need attention urgently.

With Shared Mailbox you can create categories with names such as high, low, or normal and use these categories to organize email by priority. In addition, it is handy to choose colors for each category as you can quickly identify categories while scanning your inbox. However, the colors you have chosen for custom categories may be lost when viewing email via your user profile.

In SBX color coded shared categories are the go-to way to prioritize emails. SBX also provides mutually exclusive category groups which ensures that emails can't have multiple contradictory priorities.

Keep your team in the loop

Your whole team should be able to access emails you have sent if needed. This way your teammates can rest assured that you have handled the email. In addition, access to past messages in an email thread allows someone to take over from you in case you are unavailable. Past email conversations have valuable context about your interactions with customers. Ideally, you should always send emails from the Shared Mailbox's profile so that the sent message goes in the mailbox's sent folder. Alternatively, you can send a copy of the sent message to the group address. However, doing this is easily forgotten, so it is more convenient and reliable to add a rule to always send a copy to the group address.

SBX allows you to always reply from the same address to which the email was sent. SBX ensures that when you send from a group address the group is always sent the reply.

Prioritize Inbox Zero

The Inbox zero method recommends that you decide what you are going to do with an email when you read it. This is especially beneficial for your team inbox as keeping your inbox clean benefits both you and your teammates. When a new email reaches your team inbox whoever first reads it should immediately also decide who the email is going to be assigned to. Once an email is resolved immediately mark it as resolved and remove it from the list of resolved emails.

Using the previously described assigning and archiving policies, the Shared Mailbox can be kept tidy while individual users will be responsible for their assigned folders.

SBX simplifies assigning and marking emails as resolved with a built-in system and, as such, makes it easier to achieve inbox zero.

Avoid collisions

Since many people are working on the same emails and each of them needs to decide if they need to attend to each email there is a danger of miscommunication. Multiple people may start to work on the same email leading to duplicate efforts. Worst case, multiple responses are sent out to the customer.

With our best practices, as long as users only work emails assigned to them, the chance of conflicts is minimized.

SBX enables easy assignments but as an extra layer of insurance also provides collision detection to let you know if someone is concurrently writing a reply to the same email.


We consider some important limitations that cause problems even if we diligently follow our best practices.

Difficult to rectify mistakes

You want to make sure every email is handled appropriately as late, unanswered, or poorly handled emails may result in lost business. It is important to ensure that for each email your process is followed carefully. No matter how careful you are, there is always a risk that something goes wrong. Most importantly, you need to know in a timely manner what went wrong and why. However, Outlook Shared Mailbox provides limited opportunities to understand the cause of mistakes.

Shared Mailbox does not delete emails immediately but rather retains emails in the Deleted Items folder for 30 days and only then deletes permanently. While this makes recovering from errors much easier, it is still difficult to find out if an error has occurred. Accidental mistakes could result in emails getting lost. For example, if someone deletes or archives an important open email, then you won't know until there is a serious issue and even then, you can't easily find out who was responsible, when it was removed, and why.

By adhering to our best practices, we can keep track of to whom an email is currently assigned and if it is resolved. However, while we may know what our folders signify, Outlook does not. Therefore, Outlook can't enforce any rules to double-check if modifications are intentional.

SBX provides safeguards to limit the impact of mistakes. For one thing, SBX does not allow open emails to be deleted and instead moves them back to the assignee's inbox or the unassigned folder. Secondly, as assignee and resolved statuses are explicitly designed to be used as such, that information is not lost when an email is deleted, moved to another folder, reassigned, or closed. Therefore, you have a basis to search for emails that may have been incorrectly handled, such as emails that are unassigned but closed. Furthermore, modifications are logged so we know the time of the modification and the identity of the modifier which fosters accountability and helps find the cause of mistakes and rectify them.

Lack of accountability

We discussed the benefits of assigning email. Clarifying responsibility allows employees to focus on their emails and offers managers the opportunity to identify and rectify issues. Not only is it important to know who is currently assigned an email, it is also valuable to know who has previously been assigned to an email as well as who decided to assign or close the email. The assignment history enables you to directly contact a previous assignee in case of questions. In addition, if you assign to someone, you can identify who, even if they reassign the email. Furthermore, you may wish to continue to keep up with an email you were previously assigned but need to reassign.

Our best practices describe a policy to assign email. While the policy is effective, it can only identify who is the current assignee and you can't identify past assignees. Also, you can't easily keep tracking an email after it is reassigned.

SBX logs changes to assignment and resolved statuses. You can easily identify any past assignees as well as who decided the assignments and to open or close an email. Furthermore, SBX moves relevant emails to your inbox but does not automatically remove email from your inbox unless you configure SBX to remove reassigned or closed email from your inbox, thus if you wish you can continue to track emails you have been assigned in the past.

Difficult to keep up with relevant email

You want to keep up with your user inbox as well as your assigned emails. Thus, you either want to be notified when a new relevant email is sent, or you want to be able to see at a glance all your relevant emails that you haven't taken care of yet.

Shared Mailbox offers neither notifications for when an email is assigned nor an accurate and up-to-date overview of your relevant unresolved emails. You can add a Shared Mailbox to your user profile to get an overview of all your mail, however, search will then only work on the currently selected Shared Mailbox. Outlook displays the number of unread emails next to each folder, but it quickly gets out-of-date and we are more interested in unresolved rather than unread emails. For these reasons the overview is not reliable.

SBX is designed with explicit assignment and resolved statuses in mind. Thus, SBX provides a concise real-time overview of unresolved rather than read emails which is much more relevant. SBX gives you control of what reaches your inbox. Subscribe to all new email from a group or only to emails that are assigned to you.

Difficult to discuss with teammates

Often, you want to discuss emails with your team. For example, you may want to ask your superior for permission to give out a special discount, you may want advice from a co-worker or leave a comment when you delegate an email.

Shared Mailbox has no built-in means to communicate with only your team. As such you need to either use a different channel altogether or discuss via separate email messages or forwards. However, if you use a different channel or a separate email thread, it will be difficult to find your internal discussion later should your discussion with the customer continue later. On the other hand, if you use forwards to discuss with your team, then you need to be careful not to send your internal discussion to the customer when replying to them. Therefore, then you need to manually remove internal discussion from emails if it is present.

SBX offers freely written internal notes that will always stay attached to an email and thus can be found quickly. Furthermore, SBX allows you to mention a team in such a way that they get a notification and can react quickly.

Can't create user specific rules, categories, and folders as everything is shared

Users may find it useful to create rules, categories, or folders that apply only to them. User-specific rules allow users to automate their workflow to better suit their habits. User-specific categories and folders allow users to organize their inbox as they wish.

When using Outlook Shared Inbox all rules, categories, and folders affect the whole team. As such creating user-specific rules could cause errors and user-specific folders and categories may confuse teammates.

SBX allows user-specific rules, categories, and folders as inboxes and user profiles are separate for each user.


Outlook Shared Mailbox can be a viable way to manage your role-based email address despite significant limitations. As long as you have a small team of up to 5 people the limitations can be overcome by diligently following best practices. However, with a large team Shared Mailbox's limitations will lead to more and more wasted time and issues. In addition, following best practices becomes more difficult as the team grows.

Learn how you can use SBX to take back control of your inbox and collaborate effectively in Outlook