Google Collaborative Inbox

How to Setup Google Groups Collaborative Inbox (+ 7 Better Options)

Google Workspace has a free shared inbox built in called the Google Groups Collaborative Inbox. Here's how to set it up and evaluate whether it's the right tool for your team.

Cody Duval

Last updated: March 14, 2022

15 mins read

Google offers two products that allow people to join discussions around a particular topic:

In this post, we’ll focus on what the Collaborative Inbox is, explore its pros and cons, and discuss alternative solutions to help you manage a shared inbox.

Ready to level up your shared inbox?
Keeping makes it easy to share a Gmail account. Collaborate in Gmail without any complicated software.

What is Google Groups Collaborative Inbox?

Collaborative Inbox is part of Google Groups. When using Google Groups, you can use the settings to turn your group into an: 

  • Email list
  • Web forum
  • Announcement-only group
  • Q&A forum
  • And Collaborative Inbox

Although all of these options are good for some things, Collaborative Inbox is the most suitable for shared group email. It’s the closest to a true shared inbox, for the reasons we’ll go into now.

As part of Google Workspace, Google Groups Collaborative Inbox is adapted by adding a few extra features to a traditional group. It’s a bit like having an email inbox with multiple members, with very basic email management tools. 

Basically, instead of each person logging into the same mailbox with the same credentials, each member has their own account. This also avoids the hassle of using separate inboxes and relying on CCs, BCCs, and FWDs to collaborate. Collaborative Inbox goes one better. 

Here’s a screenshot of a message in a Collaborative Inbox: 

Example of a google collaborative inbox.

You may notice the ability to assign emails to particular users sharing the inbox. You can see that members can also change the status of an email depending on whether it is open, pending, or closed. 

Collaborative Inbox uses email but allows teams or groups to receive, reply to, and manage email from the same interface. It reimagines the individual paradigm of traditional email. Since Google Workspace claims more than 8 million paying customers, many businesses want to stay within the ecosystem and use Collaborative Inbox.

Why do organizations turn to Google Groups Collaborative Inbox, typically?

You’re trying to manage email as a team

Organizations usually think of adopting Google Groups Collaborative Inbox because they want their team to manage email better. This could be a special interest group looking for a way to communicate, or a business setting up an inbox to reply to customer inquiries. They may not have a high number of emails arriving in their inbox, but it’s enough to require all hands on deck.  

Emails are slipping through the cracks

You’re already handling email as a team but you’re missing some important inquiries. This could be because you think a colleague has already handled it, but they didn’t. Or someone simply forgot to reply to a customer email. Standard inbox tools offer very little accountability even compared to a Collaborative Inbox, which is still relatively basic. 

Customers are complaining

You might be running a business without any way of responding to customer complaints. They are taking to social media to air their grievances about your business, leading to a poorer business reputation. Collaborative Inbox is a portal between agents and customers that they can use to communicate. 

What is the difference between Google Groups and Collaborative Inbox?

Collaborative Inbox is simply a subtype of Google Groups, which you can set up by navigating to the Settings. We’ll tell you exactly how to do this later. Collaborative Inbox is not hugely different to a normal google group except you have better features to manage shared email. 

The main difference is that a google group is the default setting when you sign up for Google Groups, and Collaborative Inbox is designed for groups of users who want to share email. This means that Google Groups can be used for group email, instead of the typical use case of discussion boards. 

How much does Google Collaborative Inbox cost?  

Collaborative Inbox pricing depends on your particular Google Workspace plan, although you can get started in using it for free. Essentially, if you are already a Google Workspace subscriber, you can use Collaborative Inbox without paying anything extra.

Note that if you want a custom domain (ie you don’t want your email address to be then you’ll need a paid Google Workspace account. For any level of professionalism, you should opt for a custom domain for your email. 

How do I collaborate with Google Groups? 

Google Groups was not built for collaborating on email but you can work around its limitations with Collaborative Inbox. Sharing information within a group is the intended purpose of Google Groups, but being able to collaboratively respond to emails is more of the function of Collaborative Inbox. 

If you want to collaborate with Google Groups, change the settings of your group to Collaborative Inbox. 

How do I create a Google Groups Collaborative Inbox?

To create a Google Groups Collaborative Inbox you must first set up a Google Group.  You’ll need to be a Google Workspace administrator to proceed.

Note that you might need to turn on Groups for Business if this is not enabled. 

  • Log into Google Groups at
  • Select the “Create group” button on the top left-hand corner.
  • Input your details, including group name, your group email address and your group description. Select “Next” to continue.
  • Choose your privacy settings then select “Next”.
  • Add your members using their email address. Finally, select “Create group”.
  • Once you’ve set up your Google Group, you can proceed with setting up your Collaborative Inbox.

Here’s what to do to switch to Collaborative Inbox:

  • Log into your Google Groups account at
  • Select the name of your group.
  • Select “Group settings” from the bottom of the left-hand navigation bar.
  • Find the option to “Enable additional Google Groups features” and select “Collaborative inbox”.
  • Save your changes. Voila! Your Collaborative Inbox is set up.

The benefits of Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

It’s part of Google Workspace 

It’s usually more appealing to stick with a tool that’s already in your ecosystem than adopt a new platform. Teams use Collaborative Inbox because they think it will be a lot like Gmail, which is part of Google Workspace. 

However, it’s definitely possible to keep using Google Workspace while moving beyond the limitations of Collaborative Inbox. We’ll tell you more about this when we discuss some alternative tools. 

Users like the interface

Another reason Google Groups is popular for its collaborative inbox is that users like the interface. This is related to the fact that it is part of Google Workspace and reflects Google’s focus on clean, intuitive design. 

Collaborative Inbox has many similarities with the rest of Workspace, though it has not been designed from the ground up with group email in mind. There’s no training required for agents to understand the extra features that Collaborative Inbox provides. 

The setup is simple

If you want to use Collaborative Inbox, it’s as easy as ensuring you have a Google Workspace account, opening Google Groups, creating a new group and changing it to a Collaborative Inbox. More detail on this step-by-step process later. 

There’s no complicated software to set up, which bestows a significant advantage on Collaborative Inbox when compared to similar tools such as help desks or shared inboxes. Teams can get up and running with Collaborative Inbox right away, suffering from virtually no interruptions to their service. You won’t need to involve the IT department at all. 

It’s built for collaboration 

Unlike other types of google groups such as web forums or email lists, Collaborative Inbox is built for collaboration. When your emails come in, teams have the ability to manage these emails without stepping on each other’s toes or getting confused. It also means the overall setup of the inbox is aimed at teams. 

You may have used a distribution list in Microsoft Outlook before, or a delegated account in Gmail. You’ve realized that teams can only staff this sort of email address with great difficulty. Collaborative Inbox is quite a bit better than this option in many respects. 

It offers more accountability

When you assign conversations to particular members of the group, you can easily see who is responsible for dealing with an email. This gives you more accountability compared to guessing whether or not someone is handling an email.You let fewer customers down since your team is far more organized. 

Being able to see the status of emails also helps you to understand which ones need addressing immediately. This is something you just don’t get with traditional email, or a regular Google Group. 

It provides secure login

In order to manage a single email address, your team may have been sharing login details with one another. This can result in all sorts of security problems, including the risk of being locked out of the account for suspicious activity. More opportunities for the account to be hacked is another. 

Although the inbox is still technically “separate”, every member can access Collaborative Inbox just like they would their own Google Workspace account. 

The drawbacks of Collaborative Inbox

Collaborative Inbox is not that similar to Gmail

Say you want to keep using Gmail for your personal or work account. Collaborative Inbox is not linked directly to Gmail. You’ll have to keep switching between these two tools to check different email accounts. After all, Collaborative Inbox is not technically an inbox – it’s a group. 

As a result, the interface of Collaborative Inbox is not super similar to Gmail. So if you were hoping to keep the familiar Gmail UX for your team, we’re sorry to say you’ll be disappointed. However, if staying within Gmail is important to you, we’ll show you how you can do this later.

More: How to Setup a Gmail Shared Inbox 

It lacks features that you need for customer service

Another big roadblock for users of Collaborative Inbox is that this tool was not created with customer service in mind. It is, rather, a very basic group that allows multiple people to view the same email separately. True collaboration is only possible in a more upscale customer service tool. 

While Google Groups Collaborative Inbox has the advantage of being free, this model also comes with limitations that other paid tools do not have. For example, customer emails are not tickets, and you have no integrations with tools like CRMs. 

More: Top 7 Customer Service Software

There is no way of preventing duplicate replies

One of the main reasons teams seek a shared inbox is to prevent duplicate replies. This means agents should only reply to customers once, instead of stepping on each other’s toes and potentially sending conflicting information. This will only confuse customers and look unprofessional. 

Unfortunately, Collaborative Inbox does not offer this feature. You can assign emails to members, but there’s nothing to stop someone simultaneously working on and sending a conflicting response. 

More: How Collision Detection Prevents Duplicate Replies

Agents can’t talk to each other

If agents managing your inbox want to communicate with each other, they’ll need to jump to another tool. This isn’t inherently a problem until you start losing vital context for conversations. If your team’s discussion has taken place in Slack, anyone looking back over the email will not be able to see it. 

Furthermore, switching between tools is a waste of time and this also makes Collaborative Inbox’s lack of communication a drawback. It’s not as collaborative as it appears at first glance. 

More: Use Shared Notes to Collaborate on Support

No reporting or data on your team

When you improve email management, you can begin functioning more successfully as a team. Being able to accurately report on the volume of email, plus vital metrics such as speed of response, is another reason to upgrade your email platform. Sadly, Collaborative Inbox offers no such data since reporting is non-existent. 

Only when you upgrade to a more premium tool can you begin to extract insights about your team’s performance. Tracking customer service metrics is necessary for any team managing a shared inbox. 

More: What are Reports 

No automation features to enhance productivity

Customer service automation is practically essential in today’s teams, but you won’t find such features in Collaborative Inbox. You can’t automate processes to save time or be more productive. If you choose Collaborative Inbox, your team will still be doing all the manual work themselves.

When automations are such an integral part of customer service teams who want to reduce administrative overhead, you need to go beyond this tool. 

 More: Use Workflows to Automate your Inbox

You can’t create templates for common replies

Many responses sent out to customers follow almost exactly the same format. That’s why you might want saved replies, shared templates, or canned responses to insert into your emails. Without these templates, responding to emails will take far more time than it should. 

Since Collaborative Inbox is technically a group, it does not benefit from such advanced features as shared templates. All you can do is save your text into another document to copy and paste into your emails every time you need it. 

More: See How Templates Work

A better option: 7 alternative tools for Google Groups Collaborative Inbox

1. Keeping

Keeping, a shared inbox tool for Gmail.

Keeping is a top extension for Gmail that works just like Collaborative Inbox – but better. The big difference is, you’re not using Google Groups and Keeping has been specifically designed for customer-facing teams. This means you can avoid the historical limitations of a tool that was originally created for group discussions and messaging boards. 

Keeping is absolutely intended to enhance the customer experience through collaborative email for teams. No matter whether you are customer support, HR, IT or sales, Keeping can give Gmail superpowers so your team can provide comprehensive help. 

Investing in the right tools for customer service – ones that offer Keeping’s features such as automation, routing, and analytics – will significantly enhance your service and make teams more efficient. You can keep using Gmail but have all the advantages of a specialized customer service tool. 

Consider the fact that you can see which agent is working on which tickets through reporting in Keeping. Features like this, alongside detailed analytics, make Keeping worth the investment. The good news: all you need is a Gmail account, and you can even connect multiple inboxes.  

Keeping’s top features:

  • Familiar interface: works right within Gmail through the Keeping extension
  • Shared access: multiple team members can smoothly log into Keeping to access the shared inbox
  • Multiple mailboxes: you can connect unlimited accounts to Keeping to manage more than one account simultaneously
  • Automations: eliminate repetitive actions such as ticket routing and tagging
  • Collaboration: shared templates, shared notes, assignment and prioritization


  • Fully integrates with Gmail for an intuitive support experience
  • Set up in minutes so there is no delay to customer service


  • Lacks add-ons such as a knowledge base or chatbot

Here’s what one of our customers recently said about Keeping: 

“I like how easy it is to use Keeping straight from my Gmail inbox. In our company, many of us manage one group email inbox inside G-Suite. For a year we did this without Keeping and several emails got missed, and it was hard to know who responded, when they responded and which required follow up. Keeping makes it really simple to keep track of this. We totally rely on this tool daily now, very grateful for it. Their customer support is also really great. I emailed them a simple question and they responded quickly and thoroughly. It as also very easy to download the app and add the plugin to my Chrome bar. Their library of tutorials and resources is also very robust in teaching people and teams to use the tool.”

Katie L. via

2. Missive

Missive, a Google Collaborative Inbox alternative.

Missive is another shared inbox for customer service teams. It enables you to collaborate on email and combine it with chat, with powerful AI integrations. More of a full-fledged help desk, you can use Missive to keep track of customer conversations as a team. 

Missive works well with tools like HubSpot and ClickUp so that you can do things like create tasks from Missive or manage deals and contacts right from your inbox. As a dashboard for agents, Missive offers a full support experience. 

You have the option to automate processes, customize responses with dynamic content, and connect multiple organizations together in Missive. This makes Missive more than just an email tool – it’s a holistic workspace for customer service teams. 


  • Focus on multi-channel support such as SMS, live chat and Messenger
  • Options for agents to manage conversations such as pinning messages and four methods to distribute workload


  • You might miss things when learning about Missive due to its relative complexity
  • Some customers wish Missive could integrate with Zoho or Telegram but this is not available yet

3. DragApp

Another alternative to Google Collaborative Inbox.

DragApp is another option for turning Gmail into a customer service team workspace using the popular board format. At the same time, you can control who has access to which board by setting different permission levels. 

Drag displays all features of its platform in a clear layout so learning to use it is intuitive. Reduce the administrative burden of managing customer email through making it easy to get your message across. 

You can also send email sequences in Drag which are essential for marketing purposes. Customer service is not always about reactively responding to customers, with the potential to add more value through Drag. 


  • Use Drag for project management as well with native tasks, checklists and notes to action emails
  • Options to customize Drag during setup to increase productivity


  • Users can’t access an individual view of Drag without changing the settings for all users
  • Some difficulty with the UX when composing new emails that involve dragging it to a shared board

4. Help Scout


Help Scout is a popular help desk that brings together multiple channels. These include live chat, knowledge base, and email. Help Scout prides itself on helping you personalize customer conversations, so customers will never even know you are using Help Scout’s software. 

Integrating all your important channels together helps you respond to customers much more quickly. Help Scout includes all the features you would expect in a shared inbox, as well as Beacon which is a messaging tool that connects customers to your agents.

Help Scout is proactive as well as reactive, allowing you to send push notifications on your website so you don’t have to wait for customers to email you.  


  • Help Scout is a user-friendly alternative to more complex help desk tools
  • Designed by support teams, for support teams, for a highly intuitive solution


  • The way Help Scout archives messages can be confusing and make it hard to find old conversations
  • There are a few bugs in the system that need resolving such as during the process of formatting knowledge base articles

5. Front


Front is another great solution for collaborative email that brings order to the chaos of your inbox. Front also offers some extra features like a knowledge base, live chat, and AI bots to enable you to help customers in more ways. Manage everything from the Front dashboard and easily see what needs doing. 

With automations, you can assign conversations to particular agents based on criteria such as lightest workload, round-robin, or at random. You can eliminate time spent on many manual processes in this way. When you make use of tags in Front, you can pull reports, power rules or filter searches based on your tags.  

Shared drafts, internal notes, and customer history from third-party integrations make it much simpler to collaborate on customer service in Front. Being able to clearly see how agents are handling your customers gives managers greater visibility. 


  • Front combines the best of email and AI to increase efficiency in your department
  • Simple interface cuts through the clutter of more complex tools that you don’t need


  • Can be hard to control notifications in Front if you want to avoid distractions
  • Some users report problems with finding older messages in Front

6. ProProfs


ProProfs is well-known for its suite of software tools specializing in all aspects of customer service. The ProProfs help desk offers a free plan that allows you to collaborate with a shared inbox, and integrates with other tools such as Chat, Survey Maker and Knowledge Base. 

Choosing ProProfs means you can benefit from customer tools that are highly specific to your purpose while accessing a range of functionality. Customer service teams will virtually never use only one tool and using a vendor who offers a suite can represent good value in the long-run, as long as you like their solutions. 

Turning your customer emails into tickets means you can manage customer support much more effectively. With a free tier, ProProfs makes professional email support available to more businesses. 


  • Take advantage of many tools in the ProProfs ecosystem
  • Focused on reimagining email as a simple help desk


  • Users find the lack of integrations with ProProfs somewhat restrictive
  • You cannot personalize the automated responses

7. Helpwise


Helpwise is another straightforward customer service email tool with a universal inbox. Bring all your channels together to support customers with an experience modeled after traditional email inboxes like Gmail or Outlook. But by removing the problems of traditional email, customer service reps can collaborate and assign messages. 

In Helpwise, you can even see which team member is reading an email in real-time. This prevents the nasty prospect of crossed wires. You can do other handy things in Helpwise like set up automations, build a knowledge base and collect information. 

You can proactively engage customers using highly personalized pop-ups on your website, so more of your leads become customers. 


  • Helpwise provides a place for multiple team members to share an inbox instead of using individual tools
  • Users consider Helpwise customer support very responsive


  • There are a few bugs in the Helpwise system that can disrupt your workflow
  • Administrators cannot bulk update and standardize agent signatures

Why you should choose Keeping for email over Collaborative Inbox

Another screenshot of Keeping.

Since Keeping is top of our list for alternatives to Google Groups Collaborative Inbox, it’s critical to understand that Keeping works directly with your team. There’s no need to learn anything new or grapple with features that are unnecessary for group email. 

Collaborative inbox features are a good start but Keeping actually provides the solution to working with email as a team. Visibility into ticket status, automations and analytics make this a powerful platform for customer service. Collaborative Inbox, while good for some things, just doesn’t quite cut it for growing teams. 

Although choosing Keeping means you’ll pay it a bit extra, it’s well worth it in being able to provide a more professional customer experience. For anyone intending to provide support over email, Keeping is a must. 

Transform Gmail into a customer service team workspace

Google Collaborative Inbox is often a great starting point for customer service teams. As your needs evolve, you might want to start considering a more powerful solution. Keeping steps in at this point to offer an elevated email experience while holding on to all the features you love, such as the simplicity of your inbox. 

Customer service tools shouldn’t be a headache. When you choose a solution like Keeping, your team can deal with customer emails with much less back-and-forth. This saves you time, makes customers happier, and enables you to focus on customer service as a revenue driver. 

Ready to level up your shared inbox?
Keeping makes it easy to share a Gmail account. Collaborate in Gmail without any complicated software.
Cody Duval

Cody is the Founder and CEO of Keeping. He's a self-professed nerd about processes and operations and loves helping others grow and build their businesses.

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.