How to convert distribution group to shared mailbox.

How to Convert a Distribution Group to a Shared Mailbox

Are you using a distribution group but feel it's not working out for you? Wondering how to convert it to shared mailbox?

catherine heath

March 14, 2024

9 mins read

Imagine you have an email message but you want more than one person to see it. Maybe you’ve been using a distribution list to communicate with a team, likely through Outlook. You’ve run up against some limitations with this approach. You want to switch to a shared mailbox to better manage your email. 

How would you accomplish this goal? This is a pressing question for customer service teams. You would convert a distribution group to a shared mailbox, right? 

In email, the answer is not always so straightforward. 

Struggling to keep customer emails under control?
Keeping gives you everything you need to manage incoming customer emails without ever leaving Gmail.

What is a distribution group?

First of all, what do these terms even mean? You could be using a distribution group without even really understanding the term. 

A distribution list or group is a shared email address. It sends a copy of an email to everyone included in the distribution group. When a person in the group replies, it comes from their own personal email address (unless you configure it differently). Basically, a distribution list has no mailbox of its own. 

Now, this has some understandable limitations when it comes to customer support. We’ll go into these in more detail later. All you need to know is that an email to a distribution group can be read by more than one person.

Think of it this way. A distribution group is great if you want to send a blast message to everyone in a group to their personal email address. You might want to let everyone in your office know that they should do their dishes before the end of the day. You might want to send out sales figures updates to the sales team. It’s a far superior method to adding everyone to your email individually every time. And it’s a simple process to add and remove recipients to and from the list.

Distribution groups are a useful tool but are highly unsuitable for teams collaborating on email for customer service.  

An example of a distribution group.

Image source

What is a shared mailbox?

A shared mailbox, on the other hand, is like a massive upgrade to a distribution list. As the name implies, multiple users are literally sharing a mailbox. It becomes the central location where you receive and reply to emails. Makes much more sense for customer service, right? 

Shared inbox in Outlook.

Image source

In essence, a shared mailbox keeps just one copy of an incoming email which users can all see. If someone replies, you see that reply in the inbox. The shared mailbox is added to the user’s Outlook profile. You can configure permissions that control what users can do with the emails. You can add shared tags and use the shared calendar.

A typical use case would be an internal HR team fielding emails from employees and needing some way of collaborating on email. They need insight into when their colleagues have replied and the ability to reply with the shared email address.  

Shared mailboxes are great for teams on a budget because there are no extra user accounts to manage. Users log in with their existing credentials and add the mailbox to their Outlook account. 

Shared mailboxes are for groups of people or teams that want to have a bit more control over receiving and managing group email. 

What would you want to switch to a shared mailbox?

You’re thinking, why would I bother switching? I’ve been able to technically configure Microsoft Outlook so users can reply to the distribution list with a shared email address. Well, in many cases, this solution is not enough. 

A whole team can use the mailbox

When you adopt a shared mailbox, you not only reply with a shared email address. You gain access to a plethora of features that make collaborating on email a breeze. This means a HR team, for example, could all use the same mailbox instead of each person working on their own. 

Shared mailboxes are modern tools

Teams are often struggling with legacy technologies which made sense when budgets were more limited, teams were smaller, or you dealt with fewer customers. As the business scales, tools like distribution groups make less and less sense. 

Shared mailboxes have collaboration features

When you use a distribution list, you lack insight into who has replied to an email or the status of an email. Emails are just emails – they are not tickets that you can track and analyze. A distribution group is essentially for communicating with people en masse who are passive recipients of your email. Shared mailboxes turn them into active participants. 

Is it possible to switch from a distribution group to a shared mailbox?

The answer is yes. 

However, making the switch from a distribution group to a shared mailbox can be daunting. In Microsoft 365, you’ll first need to delete your distribution group to free up the email address. You’ll then need someone with admin permissions to create your new shared mailbox in Outlook. 

We’ll go through the steps in more detail in the next section. When you do this, you’re fundamentally changing how you send and receive email with Outlook. And the end result may not be a perfect solution for your customer service team.

You have two options for migrating from distribution lists to shared mailboxes. This is great news if you want to stay in Outlook and keep using Office 365. Staying within Office 365 is extremely tempting if you already use their ecosystem and trust their services. 

As a result, Microsoft has made it possible in Outlook to change your distribution list to a shared mailbox. Read on for more.   

What are the steps for switching? 

There are two methods that you can use to switch from an existing distribution address to a shared mailbox in Outlook. 

1. Through the Microsoft Admin Console

This is the less technical way to transfer a distribution group to a shared mailbox. Only an admin in the Microsoft admin console can change the settings in Outlook to set up a shared mailbox. Make sure you’ve opened the Microsoft Exchange admin center before you can proceed. 

Microsoft Admin Console.

Follow these steps: 

1. Change your current distribution email address

You can’t use an existing distribution list address as a shared mailbox – it has to be a different address. You’ll need to change the name of your distribution group before you can set it up as a shared mailbox. 

Click Edit on your old distribution list in Outlook and change it to something different.  

2. Set up a new shared mailbox

In Add a shared mailbox, you can enter the details of your former distribution list. 

Click on the following links to set up your shared mailbox: Recipients > Shared > Add.

Add the name and address to create the shared mailbox. 

3. Grant your team members access permissions

Refer back to a list of the previous members of your distribution group. Click Add to add them as members of your mailbox and edit the settings Full Access or Send As permissions. 

Your new mailbox is set up and ready to go. Your team members might need to refresh their inboxes and wait a few minutes for it to show up. 

2. Go through the Exchange Management Shell

The second way is more complex and may require the help of a developer if you’re not comfortable with running commands in the shell. Just like with the first option, you need Microsoft admin rights. Make a list of the previous members of your distribution list because you’ll be deleting it. 

Follow these steps: 

1. Open the Exchange Management Shell

You should be able to launch the Exchange Management Shell from your desktop if you have the shortcut. 

Microsoft exchange shell.

Image source

2. Find out the LegacyExchangeDN of your distribution group

Now, you need the LegacyExchangeDN of your group which you obtain through the shell. Use the following command: 

Get-DistributionGroup “DistributionGroupName” | Select LegacyExchangeDN

3. Remove your old distribution group and make the shared mailbox

Head back to Outlook and delete the distribution group to enable you to create a new mailbox with the same SMTP mail address. 

Use the following command but replace the email address with the one for your new mailbox: 

New-mailbox shareduser –shared –userprincipalname

4. Give users access to your new mailbox

Your new shared mailbox will now appear in the Microsoft Admin Console. Head over there and open up your mailbox. 

Click Manage Full Access Permissions and add team members from your list to the mailbox. 

5. Ensure your mailbox is a X.500 address

You need to change one more setting before your mailbox will start working. Instead of being a X.500 address, it needs to be a X.500 address. It’s a subtle distinction, but it matters. 

Open the mailbox, then click the Email Address tab. Select the plus symbol, and then the Custom Address

Change the setting like this: 

Enter the distribution list’s LegacyExchangeDN that you obtained earlier. The value should look like this: /o=Organisation/ou=Administrative Group/cn= Recipients/cn=Username

Choose the email type: it should be X500, not X.500

It’s not too hard to change a distribution list to a shared mailbox when you know how. Still, it’s a bit of a hassle and prone to error. It all feels unnecessary when you know there’s a better way. 

What’s the alternative to switching? 

Switching a Microsoft Outlook distribution list to a shared mailbox is technically possible. At the same time, it’s definitely a hassle. Many businesses are skipping the fuss. They’re opting for shared inbox tools that have been specifically designed for collaborating and sharing within email. Customer service is a direct use case for tools like Keeping – not an afterthought. 

In a shared mailbox in Outlook, you can store up to 50GB of data without assigning a license. After you reach that limit, you’ll essentially need to buy more storage. Since customer support teams are sending and receiving a lot of email, take this into consideration when deciding what platform to use. 

Unfortunately, an Outlook shared mailbox also limits access to only 25 users at a time. If you exceed that limit, the inbox stops working properly. This is a problem for bigger customer service teams with more agents. 

Keeping is a shared inbox intended first and foremost for customer service teams and other user-focused teams. In Keeping, every user has their own login for the inbox and we offer many more features than a traditional mailbox. 

Keeping works on top of Gmail to allow you to turn email into customer support tickets. Everyone accessing the shared inbox can read and respond to emails in the same way. Keeping totally eliminates the confusion that comes with sharing email in a mailbox intended for personal use.

Keeping example of a shared mailbox.

How is Keeping better than a shared mailbox?

We’ve already told you a bit about Keeping. Did you know that Keeping is fully equipped with help desk features? This means you can turn your email messages into tickets. You can keep track of them, prioritize them, and assign them. Keeping is a shared mailbox, and then some. 

For example, if you’re using Outlook, then it’s impossible to see if your colleague is also working on an email – even if you use a shared mailbox. In Keeping, on the other hand, collision detection prevents embarrassing double replies.

Shared mailbox screenshot.

If you’re used to using Outlook then Keeping isn’t that much different. It just works on top of Gmail so you’ll need to switch to Google Workspace. Keeping is easy to set up and intuitive, so no messing around with the command line to give everyone access.   

In Keeping, you can have an unlimited number of agents accessing your mailbox. Integrate with Shopify, Zapier and Hubspot to create a better agent experience with your inbox. Keeping is completely invisible to customers, while subtly improving the overall service.  

Top Keeping features for collaborative email are: 

  • Shared drafts that allow you to work on responses simultaneously with colleagues
  • Canned responses allow you to send frequently used templates easily to customers
  • Automations and rules that send email to the right person or department
  • Collision detection prevents duplicate replies to messages in the inbox
  • Comments that allow you to discuss emails within Keeping

Once you’ve tried Keeping for shared email, you’ll never go back. Keeping helps prevent confusion and customer service burnout.  

Wrapping up

If you’re using a distribution list for customer service you’ll soon be dissatisfied with this solution. Standard email providers like Outlook and Gmail have limited features for collaborative email, even if you upgrade to a shared mailbox. That’s exactly why we created Keeping – to address this need.

Email is the second most popular customer service channel today (after phone). Customers expect you to respond to their emails in under three hours. You need to make sure you are serving your customers well.

Adopting the appropriate software as your requirements change is a big part of good customer service. 

Distribution groups are totally inappropriate for customer service. Shared mailboxes are too limited. The only answer is to use a tool like Keeping to properly collaborate on email. That way, you’ll provide the best customer experience possible.  

catherine heath

Catherine is a content writer and community builder for creative and ethical companies. She often writes case studies, help documentation and articles about customer support. Her writing has helped businesses to attract curious audiences and transform them into loyal advocates. You can find more of her work at

Join 150+ teams that are sharing inboxes with us

The easiest way to upgrade your shared Gmail account. There’s no credit card is required.