What Is a Shared Mailbox?

What is a shared mailbox?
What is a shared mailbox?

An Office 365 shared mailbox is an inbox that multiple team members use to receive and send mail from one email address, plus share contacts and a calendar.

Using a shared mailbox in Microsoft’s Office 365 can be a way to have more eyes on the same email messages. Team members working together in a collaborative inbox makes a lot of sense for productivity and efficiency, especially when you’re managing general inboxes—like sales@yourcompany or customersupport@yourcompany. Every member of a shared mailbox receives a copy of every message that comes through the shared address. Plus, any member may reply to any email.

Setting up and using an Office 365 shared mailbox

Only network administrators can set up shared mailboxes. You don’t need a username and password to log in; once an admin adds you to a shared mailbox, you have access to everything inside that mailbox.

“Office 365 gives the option for admins to create a shared mailbox,” explains Cassie Haehlen. Cassie’s a customer success guide for Palo Alto Software (the maker of Outpost), and she has helped teams of all sizes augment their Office 365 accounts with Outpost’s collaborative email tools. 

“The shared mailbox isn’t an official user. The shared mailbox will add on to the mailboxes that they already have,” says Cassie

Once an admin has set up a shared mailbox (such as info@, support@, or sales@), any team member who’s been added to the shared mailbox has access to every message inside that mailbox. Here are eight ways team members can use the shared mailbox in Office 365:

  1. Receive and read all incoming messages
  2. Reply to emails
  3. Save draft emails and replies
  4. Set the “from” address as either the shared mailbox’s email address or the team member’s individual email address
  5. Forward emails
  6. View sent emails and replies (as long as those replies were sent with the shared mailbox’ email as the “from” address)
  7. View and modify a shared calendar
  8. View and modify a shared contacts list

As long as the mailbox contains less than 50GB of data, shared mailboxes do not require a separate Office 365 license (each user added to a shared mailbox must have an active Office 365 subscription though, and shared mailboxes over 50GB must be licensed). Admins can also create as many shared mailboxes as they want, and there are no limits to how many shared mailboxes team members may be part of.

The problem with Office 365 shared mailboxes

An Office 365 shared mailbox can be a starting point to get teams on the same mailbox page, or help team members see at a glance what emails are in the inbox and may need a reply. it’s better than sharing an individual password among several people, but it’s not a feature-rich, streamlined experience.

There are some serious limitations:

Lack of tracking and team performance analytics.

Confusion on who is responsible for a response.

Email collisions, resulting in duplicated (sometimes conflicting) responses.

Lost emails—messages that fall into the abyss, or land in someones’ personal email, never to be seen again. 

“Team leaders can’t see who sent a message,” says Cassie. “The pain points I hear are that you can see responses, but it’s not clear right away who responded to an email, or if—or when—an email was opened. Users can see a message, but when they hit reply, their response can come from their personal mailbox. Instead of the reply going out from the same shared email, if it goes out from the team member’s email, that reply only appears in their personal email, not the shared mailbox. When that happens, the team leader doesn’t know easily if a reply went out.”

Office 365 shared mailboxes also have no permissions on who can and cannot see certain messages. Team members also don’t have at-a-glance ways to know if an email has already been responded to—or if multiple team members are unknowingly working on the same email at the same time.

“The main concern that other people have is that everyone can see all the mail in a shared inbox or group in Outlook 365,” explains Sean. “I don’t know how they prevent people from answering those email messages, such as having two users send answers in a different way, sending conflicting responses to a customer.”

Team leaders are also unable to monitor team-wide reporting and metrics.

“There are no analytics that point to how quickly your team is answering emails,” says Sean, “what your turnaround and reply time is, what your resolution is, how many emails were sent.”

Is an Office 365 shared mailbox the only way to do team email?

A shared mailbox “does allow you to share an email address with multiple people, which is hard to do if you’re not using a shared mailbox,” says Sean. “These types of shared mailboxes were more intended for internal teams, such as you need to send an email to HR. It’s more useful for those types of situations, not for public-facing touchpoints.”

The limitations and downsides of a shared mailbox can leave teams needing a more robust solution. Outpost can help you manage your collaborative inbox like a pro–and if you’re already using an Office 365 shared mailbox, Outpost works with your existing system.

Want to prevent duplicate replies, get reporting on how your team is performing, and be able to collaborate in real-time?

Get team email that goes beyond shared mailboxes but still works with your Office 365 email: Start a free 14-day trial of Outpost today

Posted in: Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.

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