Best Practice for Team Email and File Sharing

Site MailboxesLike it or not people still like to communicate using email. It provides a way to communicate in a time frame most convenient to the user. It also provides an arm’s distance method of saying what people won’t say in person.

The downside of email comes from its popularity as a communication medium. Many business people receive hundreds of messages a day, and as a result they live in their email box. It isn’t unusual to find that the software business users are most comfortable with is their email client (most notably Outlook).

Email may be a great way of sharing messages, but it isn’t ideal for sharing files. Most email systems have limits on file sizes that can be problematic when sharing large documents. Document management policies are also frequently circumvented by sharing files via email.

SharePoint has become a popular place to manage documents but the average user is not always comfortable operating in SharePoint. With the introduction of Office 13 there is now a new Exchange and SharePoint feature called Site Mailboxes that addresses this issue for team email and file sharing.

Site Mailboxes

Site Mailboxes let the user live in Outlook but have all the advantages of SharePoint document management. It really blends the best of both worlds into a solution that is easy to implement and use for a team. The idea is to have a central place where teams can share emails and files. The emails are managed by Exchange and the documents are managed by SharePoint.

Site Mailboxes

Picture Courtesy of Exchange Team Technet Blog

You setup a Site Mailbox by adding the Site Mailbox app to your SharePoint 2013 site (see more here). There is a small bit of configuration to link it to Exchange and you are off and running. Anyone who is added to the SharePoint site sees the Site Mailbox in their Outlook folders list.

You drag and drop or send emails to the Site Mailbox and the entire team gets access to them. Documents are stripped off and stored in a SharePoint Document Library. You can access the Document Library from Outlook and drag and drop the documents (links) into new emails.

Benefits of Site Mailboxes

Site Mailboxes give the user a consolidated view of both team email and documents from the comfort of their Outlook. The end user doesn’t have to understand Exchange or SharePoint this is just an extension of the familiar Outlook folder metaphor. The user also has the ability to send an email directly to a Site Mailbox by adding it as an email recipient. The user can “Forward” a link to a document that is stored in SharePoint without ever leaving Outlook.

Site Mailboxes blend the best of Exchange and SharePoint into a seamless solution.

Retention policies can be applied at the Site Mailbox level and behind the scenes the policies are implemented in both Exchange and SharePoint simultaneously. This lessons the burden of implementing policies for IT. Site Mailboxes also encourage the sharing of links versus actual documents which makes managing the documents much easier.

Limitations of Site Mailboxes

To provide a unified view of content across both Exchange and SharePoint the solution is forced to the lowest common denominator. In the case of Site Mailboxes this means that you are sacrificing things like tagging, validation of check-in, renaming files, editing meta-data, and there is no version control. If a document has the same name as a pre-existing document the save simply fails and the user is notified via email.

You also have to keep in mind that both Exchange and SharePoint have to be updated to 2013.

How Do Site Mailboxes Compare?

Site mailboxes act as a central repository for storing team files and emails where the content can be accessed through either Outlook or SharePoint directly. A site mailbox brings emails and documents together in a manner that is efficient and fosters collaboration.

A traditional method of team collaboration with email and documents was using Exchange Managed Folders (a.k.a., Public Folders). The problem with Public Folders is they are available to everyone on the Exchange server. This really didn’t address the team dynamic.

SharePoint 2010 added the ability to configure a discussion list to receive emails. This became a popular replacement to shared folders. SharePoint 2010 also added the ability to strip off document attachments from emails and store them in a separate document library. This provided an easy and efficient method for a team to see all email activity in one place and to have easy access to the files being shared. The problem with this method was you had to go to SharePoint to see what was happening.

Site Mailboxes blend the best of Exchange and SharePoint into a seamless solution.