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Don’t be ‘that guy’ – Outlook Calendar Tips

15 Feb 2019 by Paul Robichaux

One of the big challenges we all have is figuring out when people are available to meet; with offices and employees spread literally all over the world, one of my biggest challenges at Quadrotech is to pin down exactly when the people I need to talk to will be around. No one likes waking up at “stupid-thirty” or interrupting their dinner for meetings, and I don’t want to be “that guy” if I can avoid it.

The reality is that not everyone’s a calendar nerd—most people use the calendar in Outlook to some extent, but not as much as they could, and this makes the dance of finding a time and place to meet harder than it needs to be. The more people in your organization you can get regularly using the calendar, the less often you’ll have to move meetings or deal with the dreaded I-need-to-talk-to-that-person-but-can’t-find-a-time. If you can’t have your own dedicated personal assistant to manage your calendar, here are some tips that will give you the next best experience.

Let’s start with some things you can do to reduce the risk that other people will send you poorly-timed or inconvenient meeting requests that you then have to decline.

Top 3 calendar tips for Outlook

First, set your working hours in Outlook. Exchange uses this for calculating free/busy times; Skype does (and Teams will) use this for figuring out when to route calls to you too. Keep in mind that your working hours are tied to the time zone you set too!

Next, use the “out of office” state to your advantage. When you know you’re going to be out of the office or unreachable, mark that time on your calendar and set the state for that appointment to “Out of office”. (There’s also a “working elsewhere” status but it does nothing; don’t use it). Even if you make the appointment private, others can see that you’re unreachable, and Exchange will automatically skip those blocks of time when asked to pick a free time. If you use the Outlook feature that lets you schedule an out-of-office (OOF) message, Exchange can mark you as out of office (if you have that option selected) but not until the scheduled time. Let’s say that today, Vasil sets up a scheduled OOF covering next Wednesday through next Friday. If I look at his free/busy status today, it won’t show him as OOF then because the schedule hasn’t fired.

As a courtesy, you should make sure you leave an out-of-office message any time you’re out for more than half a day or so. Teams now lets you set custom status messages, which you can use for out-of-office notifications. The Teams back-end will already notice when your calendar has you marked as OOF and will update your status accordingly. To see if this feature’s been deployed in your Teams flight, just click your user avatar in the Teams desktop client and see if you have a “Set status message” option.

Finally, take advantage of the Office 365 feature that automatically puts flight notifications on your calendar. This is more commonly known internally at Microsoft as TXP, this feature scans your incoming email looking for flight confirmations, shipping notifications, and so on, then optionally puts them on your calendar. Since a lot of the ‘Quadrofam’ travels internationally, this has been a really valuable feature for us to ensure that people aren’t booking meetings with coworkers who are actually in flight, transiting the long queues at London Heathrow, and so on. You can enable this feature in the Outlook web app settings, as shown below; once it’s active, the Exchange Online back-end does the work, so you don’t have to actually use OWA to take advantage of it.

What about when you’re the meeting organizer? Let me start with something basic that a surprising number of people don’t do. When you’re booking a meeting, for the love of all mankind, use the Scheduling tab in the meeting creation window. Don’t just plug in a time and date and click “Send” without checking your attendees’ availability. Once you enter your recipients and the proposed meeting time, this tab will show you graphically who’s free and who’s not, as in the below. Notice that Nigel’s availability is missing—so I’m taking a risk that if I pick this time without waiting for an update that he will turn out to be busy at the selected time. I don’t yell a lot, but if I am yelling, there is a good chance it is because someone admitted to double-booking me for a meeting with an excuse like “oh, I forgot to see if you’re free.”

Maybe the best tip for booking meetings is this: use Microsoft FindTime to book meetings with people outside your organization. MVP Gareth Gudger has a really good writeup here, but basically, the FindTime add-in lets you send a poll to your recipients so they can vote on the best time, then it auto-schedules the meeting for you once the votes are in. While it has a few quirks (such as its use of the organization-wide Teams/Skype interop mode setting instead of using the user setting to decide whether to schedule a Teams or Skype meeting when the “Online meeting” box is ticked), it’s still an extremely useful tool for herding a group of recipients towards finding a good meeting time.

Got more tips to make it easier to manage meetings in fast-moving, cross-time-zone teams? Hit me up @paulrobichaux on Twitter and share them!

Paul Robichaux, an Office Servers and Services MVP since 2002, is currently the chief technology officer at Quadrotech Solutions, where he leads the product development team for Quadrotech's family of Office 365 migration, automation, reporting, and security products. Paul is an avid (but slow) triathlete, an instrument-rated private pilot, and an occasional blogger (at http://www.paulrobichaux.com) and Tweeter (@paulrobichaux)
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