While not so much of a problem between one or two people, when you are trying to arrange meetings or conf calls between a larger number of people (especially cross company), the process can be quite a frustrating and laborious process with lots of back and forth emails checking people availability. Unless you are lucky enough to have a PA!
#Microsoft has a couple of simple, yet powerful tools, tucked away in Office 365 to help, yet I’m often amazed how many people simply don’t know that these tools exist… So, this blog is aimed these people… Trust me. It will make your work life just that little bit easier.
There are two services I’m going to cover here: –
- Calendar.help [my personal favourite]
FindTime is an Azure powered Outlook add-in that makes it much easier to find the right time most convenient time for a group of people to meet. As I said, this is one of the most under-appreciated (and unknown) part of Office 365 / Outlook and it’s an absolute godsend if you book lots of meetings.
The basic problem with meeting scheduling is that everyone involved in a meeting has different availability and whilst intra-company you may be able to see colleague calendars, across company this is not easily achieved. This means that for a meeting with all parties to be arranged successfully a common free or preferred time must be found.
How FindTime works
Microsoft FindTime does this by coordinating communication between meeting participants by essentially “polling” each attendee to find their acceptable time from a set of choices the organiser chooses. As attendees vote or decline times, they see in real time others preferred timing for the meeting.
Once an agreed time is found, FindTime creates the meeting on behalf of the organiser. That’s it.
FindTime is simple and easy to understand and use (if the plug in is installed). The FindTime Outlook add-in works for Office (ProPlus), Outlook (Web) , and Outlook for Mac but is only needed by the actual organiser. Attendees who respond/vote to the FindTime polls don’t need the add-in.
Creating a New FindTime Poll
To create a new meeting poll, the organiser simply needs to either create a new message or select an existing message.
Within the email, The To: recipients are your required attendees while those on the Cc: list are optional.
From here, you click the Findtime button on the toolbar and then simply select some time slots for your meeting (see below).
The suggested time slots are organised by availability or time. Availability shows who’s free for a selected slot, but this depends on FindTime being able to access the free/busy time of the attendees. If your (or your attendees) Office 365 tenant doesn’t make free/busy time available to other tenants, FindTime won’t be able to consume this data when it initially checks availability so will be reliant on the attendee’s choice/preference only
Every Meeting a Teams Meeting
FindTime can create an online meeting with Teams (or Skype for Business Online).
As the organiser, once you’ve defined your preferred times, you simply insert the poll into the message and send the email as normal. In the background this then creates the poll in the FindTime Azure service to prepare for responses.
Responding to FindTime
People invited to the FindTime poll receive the poll in their email.
To respond, the user clicks on the poll which takes them to a voting page on which of the proposed time slots are acceptable.
Attendees then submit their preferred “choices” to FindTime, which collates the responses and settles on the best available time.
As people vote, the meeting organiser gets updates via email.
Once each participant has voted and the organiser has picked the best time, the FindTime service auto schedules the meeting (assuming the required participants have reached a consensus on a time). If participants agree on multiple slots, FindTime selects the earliest available time.
If an agreed time cannot be found, the meeting is not automatically scheduled and the meeting organiser can update the proposed time slots to try and find one that suits. Alternatively, the organiser can go ahead with their preferred time and accept that some people can’t attend.
For more information, please head over to the FindTime FAQ.
Note. If this is your first time using FindTime, I recommend you check (and set) you default time as FindTime seems to like to default to US Pacific Time Zone. To check and set your default time zone, you need to go to findtime.microsoft.com and access your account settings.
Calendar.Help (aka Office 365 Scheduler)
In my option, this takes meeting scheduling to a whole new level and will soon be an integral part of Office 365 and Cortana – if it ever gets released in GA!
Calendar.Help leverages Cortana as the point of interaction and uses a combination of your Outlook Free/Busy and artificial intelligence processing to book meetings that work for everyone without the need for plug-ins etc.
The way Calendar.Help works is that you simply include Cortana@calendar.help in your email to set up meetings. Cortana uses natural language processing and interprets your request in the meeting to find the best time.
Here’s how Calendar.help works
As you can see from the email below, you simply send Cortana an email asking her to book a meeting for you.
Once Cortana has the request and is processing it, the organiser receives a confirmation email from Cortana. If “she” needs more information, Cortana will email the organiser to ask for clarification
Cortana then does her thing and liaises with the attendees to agree a time that works through a combination of asking and checking diaries in the attendees Exchange diary. Once attendees have responded and/or a suitable time has been found, Cortana books the meeting for you.
The meeting invite is sent based on your preferences and instructions.
Preferences and Settings
Out of the box, Calendar.help works well and there is a webpage where you can manage preferences in. This includes, blocking out lunch times, default meeting length, times to avoid and whether to always make the meeting an online meeting in Teams for example. You can also use the web-portal to initiate meetings and bookings or cancel pending requests, but you can also just ask Cortana to do this in the email.
One thing I find with Calendar.help however, is that sometimes, attendees respond directly to me and don’t include Cortana which means she is then out of the loop and unable to progress your meetings further…. this is kind of an end user education thing but can be a pain!
Would love to know how you find the service(s) described here – do you use them, do you find them useful, do you use some else?