Tag: meetings

Free ‚Ȇ¬†Available

I think many will agree that the easiest solution is not always the best solution. Sometimes, a little resistance, a little friction, can be helpful. It can even be more human.

Take scheduling meetings. Occasionally, people will put meetings on my calendar. I’ll come into the office or back from lunch and there it is: a meeting invite tentatively waiting for me to accept its existence. Now, I know the sender had the best intentions. They would like to have some of my time and attention, so they looked at my Outlook calendar and selected a time they thought would be most convenient for the both of us. As I’ve noted before, the problem with this style of scheduling is that it assumes that just because someone is “free” that they are also “available.”

Unless explicitly instructed to, putting a meeting on someone’s calendar treats them as if they were a machine. Available or unavailable. Ones and zeros. What our calendars don’t take into account is all the unspoken baggage of the workday. How must preparation is needed for a meeting? How much debrief will this meeting require? What other things are happening that day that might be emotionally weighing on the you? How much mental bandwidth do you think you’ll have at the time of the meeting?

All of those things are lost in translation when simply “looking for an open spot” on someone’s calendar. Modern work culture has tricked us into thinking that shared calendars, with all their convenience, are a net good. They certainly have many benefits, but the ability to commandeer another person’s time is not one of them. By adding just a little friction to the meeting reservation process, in which the recipient has more agency (i.e. opt-in) in the selection process, we can treat our colleagues more like humans than machines.

Like Doodle, but not Doodle

I hate having to use Doodle, but I love *the idea* of Doodle. Mainly, I like that it puts the power of scheduling in the hands of all parties, not just the meeting organizer.

My place of work uses Outlook calendaring, so with the exception of meetings with external folks, I rarely use Doodle. But why doesn’t a Doodle-like function exist in Office 365!? No, Scheduling Assistant is not the same. How do you know that “free” time on someone’s calendar is really “free”? Just because they don’t have a meeting on their calendar doesn’t mean they’re “available.” Conversely, just because you have something on your calendar, doesn’t mean you’re NOT available: e.g. some folks use their calendars for reminders. So unless everyone is using their calendars in the exact same way, Scheduling Assistant is a crap shoot.

If someone sends me a meeting request, I want to be able to select from a variety of options. If I’m the one scheduling the meeting, I want the attendees to select their preferences as well and have the option to move things around before responding. The problem with Outlook Scheduling Assistant is that it doesn’t give the recipients an active say in the meeting time the organizer selects. Yes, you have the option to propose a new time, but only one proposed time slot can be discussed at a time. And that can quickly get out of hand as the number of meeting attendees increases!

Instead, wouldn’t it be better if I could simply send the recipients a more general “request for meeting.” In the request, I select the range of dates and times (e.g., next week, 20 minutes between hours of 10-4). They could then all respond Doodle-like with their preferences (which would already be populated based on the current calendar, but with the ability to make overrides). As organizer, I would get a list of the best possible options in ranked-order, organized not by something as crude as “free” or “not free”, but by each recipient’s preference. Everyone has buy-in. Similar to ranked-choice voting.

This adds work to the recipients, but it gives everyone more control. It slows things down, but maybe that extra time for reflection (“do I really need this meeting?”) would benefit us all. For people who prefer to be more hands-off, an option to “accept any meetings scheduled in my free time by default” could be an option.

If functionality like I’ve described above exists natively in Outlook and I’m just missing it, please tell me! But don’t give me third-party app/plugin recommendations: it’s no good unless the whole org uses it and I’m NOT at that pay grade.