, October 5, 2016

Our bumpy journey into G Suite


We recently moved over to Google Apps, now called G Suite, and it was not a smooth ride. In fact, I was surprised how difficult it was even for someone considered to be relatively tech-savvy (moi) – I have a decent understanding of things like nameservers and different DNS records, perhaps just enough to be dangerous! A friend who works at Google suggested I write this post after I cried out to him for help.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-18-39-11The Background

One week ago, our email host physically moved their servers and our email was down for a day and a half. After having had different problems with them in the past, from our email being down to being blacklisted (probably due to other people abusing the servers), I was fed up and decided to move our company once and for all to Google Apps, as G Suite was known until a couple of days ago.

I had tried to migrate a couple of years ago but came up against some problem which I couldn’t remember, and thought that in any case, Google was the right way to go.

Our setup is: a team of 11 people, mostly using a mix of Apple Mail on Macs, iPhones and iPads, with a couple of PCs and people accessing email online thrown in for good measure. Most of us had active “individual” Google accounts we were using for Grain for collaborative team documents and shared work calendars.

1. Signing up for G Suite

This was fairly straightforward until I got to our 11th user. The solution: the free month trial is for up to 10 people, so once I put in our payment details, I could add the eleventh person. But at some point, one of the users I added early on got suspended so she wasn’t showing up on the “Active users” list – I had to find “Suspended users” in the dropdown to discover her hiding there. Still not sure why she got suspended, but with an account verification through a code going to a mobile phone, that got sorted out.

2. Aliases, Groups and Additional Domains

We used a mix of aliases, groups and additional domains to get all the various emails set up how we want to use them. That’s one reason we had stayed with our previous email host for so long: it was very easy to set up new email addresses and email forwarding. I tried to set up a client with Microsoft Office 365 for Business and it was a nightmare getting the aliases and forwarding to work properly.

It was straightforward to set up aliases under each user, and even to add an additional domain which we own and to set that up as an email alias. Setting up groups for more than one person to receive emails (e.g. studio@graincreative.com) also seemed easy – more on that later! At this point I thought all the emails were set up and that I was most of the way there.

3. Organizational vs Individual Google Accounts: conflicting accounts

This is where things started to get complicated. When the users clicked on their welcome email, there was a choice to go to the Organizational account or the Individual account. The Organizational account at this point in time didn’t have much in it besides email: none of our many Google Sheets we use for collaborating.

By signing up for G Suite, we had created conflicting accounts with all the existing individual accounts. Google was forcing us to use a different email for the existing individual accounts – confusingly also called personal accounts, though we were using them all with our Grain emails, for work documents and the shared work calendars.

In the meantime our Apple Calendars, set up to sync with the Google calendars, were going berserk because the individual accounts were now in conflict and so the calendars couldn’t sync.

The workaround was to create temporary email accounts on the old mail server (I hadn’t changed the MX records yet to migrate the email over) for everyone, e.g. madelyn-g@graincreative.com as well as my madelyn@graincreative.com email. We used those temporary emails for the individual accounts. To add to the confusion, our old passwords matched to the temporary emails and our main work emails had new passwords for the organizational account.

Now we could access the calendar and shared documents on Google Drive with the temporary emails. We invited the main emails (e.g. madelyn@graincreative.com) to the calendars and shared the Drive documents we’re actively using, so now we could go back to using just the main emails, keeping the temporary ones only for the older documents. (UPDATE: Of course this also affected AdWords – so we had to invite the main emails from the temporary email accounts, like we did for the calendars and Google Drive documents. And Google Alerts.)

That meant going back to the Apple Internet Account settings in the System Preferences and putting the Organizational details in for the calendars and emails (more on that later too!). All the setup on the desktops and laptops had to be done on the iPhones and iPads too, but generally that was more straightforward.

I set up more aliases for the temporary emails on G Suite so when we moved from the old mail server we’d still have the temporary emails if needed.


4. Update on Organizational vs Individual Google Accounts

Now the email migration is complete, the individual accounts don’t work anymore and the “madelyn-g@graincreative.com” type emails have reverted to “madelyn-g%graincreative.com@gtempaccount.com.” After logging in with the gtempaccount email, we are given the option to have “An account with Gmail and a new Gmail address” or “An account that uses a non-Google email address you already own” – so basically a non-graincreative.com email of any type. So we all set up new emails with Gmail. Again, not ideal: how many email addresses do we all have now?


5. Migrate: change the MX records

Things seemed to be progressing well, so I took the plunge and changed the MX records so our email would start going to and from Google instead of from our old mail server. It can take up to a week for the email to fully migrate so we left the old accounts set up and we’re still checking all of them until nothing comes into the old accounts.

6. Sync the calendars for Apple devices

Again we were at a point where we thought the worst was behind us. Then the calendars stopped working. With a bit more research (thanks Google!) I found that the Google calendars don’t automatically sync with Apple devices. They have to be ticked here. Of course we had our main accounts and the temporary accounts and sometimes Google doesn’t switch smoothly between accounts. We had to make sure we were logged into the correct account, sometimes by logging out, clearing cookies and then logging into the main organizational accounts again, and then ticking the calendar syncing boxes.


7. Getting aliases to work

The email aliases didn’t seem to be working. Test email after test email and…nothing. Then I found this: “To prevent clutter, Gmail doesn’t route messages that you send to your own alias to your inbox. You can find the message in Sent Mail or All Mail. If you need to see messages sent to your alias in the Inbox, you can configure the alias as an alternate “Send mail as” address for your account.” So that’s why I wasn’t receiving the emails sent to my own aliases!

8. Getting Groups to work

The emails I had set up for the Groups weren’t working either. The solution was to set the posting permissions to Public by going into the group, clicking on Settings (the big cog at top right), then Group Settings, then at left Permissions, Basic Permissions, Post and setting it to Public.

Then back on the specific Group’s page, go to My Settings at top right (the person and small cog), Membership and Email Settings, under Email Delivery Preference, set it to “Notify me for every new message.”

A few days later, when Group members were still not receiving messages using the Group emails, I found that I was the only person in some of the Groups – the only one at the party! So I went back into Settings > Group Settings > Outstanding invitations, uninvited all the members and then added them in with “Direct add members” just above “Outstanding invitations” in the settings. That did the trick. Groups done.





9. Apple Mail

On some of the computers, choosing the Google account in System Preferences > Internet Accounts didn’t work. Instead if we added an email account as “Other Mail Account” it seemed to pick up the Google settings. IMAP does need to be enabled, which for some of us it was by default. With the new accounts set up and the MX records in migration, we changed our outgoing (SMTP) server to Google for all accounts, since using the old SMTP seemed to keep email coming into the old accounts. This is probably just an internal issue and should clear up within a week, once the migration is finished. (UPDATE: We had to ask our old email host to remove our mail records from their servers because emails from other domains hosted there were still going to our old accounts.)


10. The Good News: Google Mail in the browser and iPhone app

Though I still have a lot of archived emails in Apple Mail on my computer, not on Google’s servers, now that I’ve found my way around Google Mail in the browser and on the iPhone app, I am absolutely loving it. First of all (and unsurprisingly since it’s a Google product) the search function is light years ahead of Apple Mail. Anything you type in, even with incorrect spelling, works just as fast as any Google search does, and there’s any kind of advanced search you can imagine. Avoiding the frustration of search in Apple Mail alone makes it worth switching to Google.

I’ve set up labels and stars how I like to use them (inbox zero!) and now my incoming emails and archive are working wonderfully.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-15-16-5211. Integrations

If you have spent more than 10 minutes with anyone from the Grain team, ever, you’ll know that we are huge fans of Redbooth project management software, and we even alpha test some of their features. You can imagine the elation when I found the Chrome Redbooth extension for Gmail which allows us to put a task from email directly into Redbooth! There are countless integrations available, for example with the CRM Insightly which we recently set up for our client Moira Wong Orthodontics.

The Conclusion

It was a real pain to switch over to G Suite: a much bumpier road than expected. But after a week of techy immersion, we’ve come out on the other side and it’s certainly worth it.


Rob Christian wrote to me in January 2019, suggesting that “using Cloudflare could probably help because it makes DNS a lot easier to manage and faster to update.” Thanks for your contribution. 

Anybody can email me at madelyn@graincreative.com with any other comments or updates.



The illustration talents of our studio manager


Thank you Grain!