How to Share your Email Inbox with a Personal Assistant

Updated: 26 Sep, 2013 | Annie Andre

At long last, you’ve decided to tackle your delegation issues in the workplace and get help—maybe you've hired a virtual executive assistant?—with your overflowing inbox. Once you’ve got an email filtering app in place and have identified which processes to offload, all that’s left to figure out is logistics and scheduling best practices. How do you literally hand over the keys to your inbox in a way that’s secure, reliable, and creates a seamless system between you and your assistant?

Step 1: Folder Setup

Folders (or labels, in the case of Gmail) are a key part of the email delegation and collaboration process. Work within your email client (MSExchange, Outlook, etc.) to configure folders similar to the following—this will allow your personal assistant to manage your email for you.

    • Review Immediately: Priority emails you should review as soon as possible.

    • Review by End of Week: Emails that require non-immediate, but time-sensitive action.

    • Review When Time Available: Non-time-sensitive emails with information you’d like to see.

    • PA – To Respond: Emails that your assistant will respond to on your behalf.

    • PA – Handled on Your Behalf: Emails that your assistant has already taken care of for you.

Once your email setup has been configured, you should have your assistant experiment with sorting fifty to one hundred emails based on their training of your business and workflow.

Step 2: Credentials

Here’s how to get your assistant the access they need to do that initial sorting project.

For security reasons, we rarely recommend handing over your email username and password to an assistant. Instead, start by trying to share specific email folders from your inbox with your PA.

Zimbra allows you to share folders by simply right-clicking on the folder name and choosing “Share Folder.” It lets you designate a level of access (Viewer, Manager, etc.) for anyone inside or outside your company.

Google Mail, however, relies on labels instead of folders, so it doesn’t have a native capacity to share labels across users. Instead, to share all items with a particular label, you can use an app like GrexIt or SquadMail, which allow you to share labels, assign tasks and track the status of tasks and emails assigned.

If your company uses a proprietary email server or one that doesn’t allow you to share individual folders, you’re stuck with forwarding each email to your assistant. Part of the workaround here would be to devise a shorthand notation for your emails, so that they know what to do with each one. These could be similar to Evernote’s subject line notations, which designate which folder an email should land in. You could also set up filters for certain types of emails (“Undeliverable,” for example) that would be auto-forwarded to them.

Step 3: Refine sorting

Now that your assistant has access to the right folders and has sorted a small subset for you, it’s time for a check-in. Meet with your assistant to provide feedback on the fifty to one hundred emails that have already been sorted. Then discuss if there is a need to adjust categorization and follow-up criteria. Zimbra also has a template tool that can be set up to ensure accuracy on your assistant’s behalf.

As with any email filter, the time spent up-front with your PA will create a strong foundation for future email management. It’s important to make the time for this during the executive assistant training period.

Step 4: Email Alias

Give your assistant an email alias on your company’s email server if they will be helping with your email. It keeps things professional and makes it easy for your team to send things directly to them.

To be clear, your assistant can still maintain their own email address on Yahoo, Google, or whatever other site they like. However, if you get them an email alias (which they can designate as a “persona” on their own email client), any emails coming from them will look like they’re coming from within your company. You may have to go through your IT team to set this up, but it’s well worth the effort as you work to grow your business.

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