In this article we will explore and setup the new FindTime Outlook extension that helps users scheduling meetings.
Trying to schedule meetings often means wasting time going back and forth trying to work around everyone's schedule. Deciding when to meet can be fairly simple if there are only a few people attending the meeting. However, when the number of attendees increases, it can be a completely different story with some users not available, others dropping out for several reasons, and so on.
The Scheduling Assistant in Outlook and Outlook on the Web (more commonly known as OWA) has, for many years now, been helping dramatically coordinating user schedules and searching for available resources like meeting rooms.
However, this is still not an easy job sometimes. What about those occasions where most attendees have already accepted a meeting and one of the attendees suggests a new time? Then we have to try to accommodate by checking with everyone else if the new time is ok? I am sure you have all been in these situations, so you get the picture.
Instead of going through all this hassle, we can now use FindTime, a new scheduling tool that helps us quickly find a meeting time that works for all the attendees.
How FindTime Works
FindTime is an Outlook add-in designed to help users schedule meetings faster by creating a meeting poll. When we create a meeting poll:
- We select the users we want to attend the meeting;
- We select one or more suggested times;
- Each attendee then receives a request to vote for their preferred time. This is an intuitive process (as we will see) and everyone can see the current status of the voting;
- Finally, once there is a consensus, FindTime sends out a meeting invite automatically.
At the time of writing this article, FindTime requires an Office365 account in order to send an invite, but not all attendees need to have an account. Attendees can use other messaging platforms like Gmail for example.
Additionally, FindTime requires Outlook 2013, Outlook 2016 or Outlook on the Web.
To reiterate: on the recipients’ side, they only need an email address to receive the invite and internet access to vote at the FindTime website. They can vote from any device they wish from. Recipients do not need to have FindTime installed on their PC or mobile device, or an Office 365 account for that matter.
Let us start with Outlook, in this case Outlook 2016. The first step is to install FindTime and to do that, we need to be using an Office 365 account as already mentioned. We open Outlook and then click on the Office Store icon:
We get redirected to the Office Store website where we search for FindTime:
Once we find it, we select it and then click Add:
If we are not already signed in to Office 365, we will be asked to sign-in. Once we do so, we click Install in order to install FindTime:
Once we get the confirmation that the FindTime plugin has been added to Outlook we click OK:
We are then taken to the Manage add-ins option pane in Outlook on the Web (OWA) where we can verify that FindTime has been successfully installed:
Once installed, we need to restart Outlook and then we will see the FindTime icon located at the top right corner (in Outlook 2016). The following is the FindTime icon when an email is selected within any folder:
And the following is the FindTime icon when a new email or meeting is created:
To install FindTime for the first time in Outlook on the Web, the process is very similar. First, we login to https://portal.office.com/ using our Office 365 account. Once in the Mail app, we go to Options and then select Email (alternatively we can select the Manage add-ins option):
Then we expand General and select Manage add-ins:
From here, we click on the + icon to install a new add-in and select Add from the Office Store:
The Office Store website opens. From here we search for FindTime:
Next we select it and then click Add:
Click Install in order to install FindTime:
Once we get the confirmation that the FindTime plugin has been added to Outlook on the Web (the text is exactly the same whether we add it to Outlook or OWA) we click OK:
We are then taken back to the Manage add-ins option pane where we can verify that FindTime has been successfully installed:
To access FindTime in Outlook on the Web, we start composing a new email or meeting invite and click on Add-ins:
From the list of available add-ins we select FindTime:
Using FindTime as the Organizer
Now that we have FindTime installed both in the full Outlook client and in Outlook on the Web, let us see how to go about using it.
For this demonstration, I will be scheduling a meeting with three internal users called Filipe, Mota and Linda. Additionally, I will invite an external user named Nuno (Gmail) so we can check how FindTime works with external recipients.
Traditionally we would use the Scheduling Assistant to lookup everyone’s free/busy. Based on that information, we would choose what we think is the most appropriate time and then send the invite.
But, as already discussed, FindTime goes beyond that and allows users to choose what works best for them. We start by clicking the FindTime button in our meeting invite (remember that this in Outlook 2016, in Outlook 2013 you have to click the Office Add-ins button first).
Because this is the first time we are using FindTime, we need to link it to our Office 365 account by clicking on Link now:
We then type our Office 365 credentials and click Sign in:
Now FindTime is linked to our account and ready to be used. The following screenshot is the main FindTime interface:
We can choose a pre-determined meeting duration or choose our own one by selecting Custom:
We can also change our time zone and chose if we want to see only slots within business working hours (8:00 to 17:00):
The first group of timeslots includes all the options available to us where every attendee is available for the period of time we selected. In this case, there is one “grey” user which is our external recipient since FindTime cannot query his free/busy information.
The second group is those timeslots where one or more attendees are not available:
Within each day, the best suggestions are presented first. If there are conflicts, the color-coded people icons tell us who is free (green), busy (red), or tentatively busy (yellow). Gray is for hidden or unavailable calendars.
By clicking on the “little people icon” on the right (for the lack of a better word), we can see exactly who is available and who is not. This is useful as some attendees might be only optional:
The calendar icon displays what else is going on in our day around the suggested time so we can easily see how busy, or not, we are for each suggestion:
The next step is to choose one or more time slots for our meeting and click Next:
If we need to keep someone in the loop but do not want to wait for them to respond, we can include them as an optional attendee by moving them to the CC: line. As we choose our timeslots, only required attendees' names are underlined:
Once we select our timeslots and click Next, we can enter the location for the meeting or even set it up as a Lync or Skype meeting. We also get a summary of our chosen time:
If we click on Meeting options we are presented with three further options for our meeting:
- Notifications: sends us an email when attendees vote. The email includes the current poll status and an option to schedule the meeting immediately;
- Auto schedule: automatically schedules a calendar event if all required attendees vote favorably for a meeting option. If multiple options are available, the earliest will be scheduled;
- Holds: adds an appointment to our calendar for each meeting option we suggest. All hold appointments are removed upon scheduling a meeting option (either by the auto schedule option or manually on the voting site) or cancelling the poll.
This is because FindTime creates a new meeting invite in the form of a normal email with a link to allow users to vote on their preferred option(s). At this stage, a meeting invite as we are accustomed to is not sent yet.
The main problem I have found with this is that any information we place in the original meeting invite such as text or attachments are discarded and the final invite is sent without any information at all. The best option is to send a meeting update with all the information once a meeting is arranged.
We, as the organizer, receive an email notifying us that the invitation has been sent:
As per the Holds option we saw before, FindTime adds a HOLD appointment to our calendar for each meeting option we suggested:
Using FindTime as an AttendeeLet us now see how each recipient receives the invite and how they can vote or accept/reject certain times. We start with our external recipient which, in this case, is using Gmail. The invitation he receives contains basic information such as the organizer’s name, the duration of the meeting, the location (if any), and how many timeslots are available to choose from. All he has to do is click on Select options:
As this is an external recipient, FindTime cannot tell which of the attendees he is, so the recipient needs to “say” who he is. In a way this can cause problems as he is able to impersonate someone else and vote for that person. At the same time, when that person opens the same invite, he/she can update her votes.
Once the recipient identifies himself, he is presented with a list of all the attendees (on the left side) and some details about the meeting itself:
By clicking on the Show Availability button, FindTime checks the user’s calendar and displays a little information box to say if he is available or busy at that particular time. In this case, because this is not an Exchange Online mailbox, this feature is not available:
From this screen, he can choose the time(s) he prefers and the times he is available or not available:
Once he clicks Submit, the vote is complete:
The Subscribe to my votes option is the same Holds option the organizer had: it will add an appointment to the attendee calendar for each meeting option he selected positively. Once again, because this is not an Exchange Online mailbox, this feature is not available.
Once the user votes, the organizer receives a notification telling him/her the attendee has voted and his choices:
Now let us go through the voting process but from the point of view of another internal user named Linda. In this case, Linda receives the same meeting “invite” in her Exchange Online mailbox:
When she clicks Select options, it is possible that she will receive the same prompt as the user before so she can select who she is. In my tests, this seemed to be a bit intermittent (possibly depending on IE cookies), which might make this tool not ideal for some business environments.
But also decides to add two additional timeslots for the meeting: one on the same day at 13:00 and the other one the following day at 14:00. She does this by clicking the Add an option button:
Once she clicks Add, the proposals are saved:
She can now update her preferred meeting times:
and submit her votes:
As Linda selected the Subscribe to my votes options, FindTime places temporary appointments to her calendar for each meeting option she selected positively.
Additionally, because Linda added two options, all the attendees, as well as the organizer, will receive the following email notification informing them that Linda has proposed new times for the meeting:
Another Exchange Online user named Filipe can now vote on all 5 options. Notice that although both Nuno’s have already voted, because they have not updated their votes since Linda suggested two new times, their votes for the new times still show grey:
Finally, the last attendee votes, Mota:
As Mota is also an Exchange Online user, he can select the Show Availability button we saw earlier and FindTime will let him know which times he is available of busy:
Once the last attendee votes, the organizer receives a notification that everyone has voted and that FindTime has sent an invitation to everyone:
The calendar of all the attendees, including the organizer, gets automatically updated (assuming they selected that option):
The attendees receive a meeting invite with the “winning” option:
And when users accept it, the organizer receives the usual meeting acceptance notification we are all used to. Job done!
Using FindTime from OWA and on a Mobile DeviceThe user experience in Outlook on the Web is very similar. We have already seen it from an attendee perspective, now let us have a look at how to use FindTime in OWA from an organizer’s perspective. We start by composing a normal meeting invite:
We then click in Add-ins followed by FindTime:
The process from here on is identical to what we have already seen:
When an attendee receives the invitation by email on their mobile device, he/she goes through the same process as when using a full client:
When clicking the Select options button, the attendee gets redirected to the FindTime website:
From here, the attendee can cast his/hers votes according to their schedule:
Once everyone votes (in this case there is only one person invited), the attendee receives the final meeting invite with all the details:
and the option to accept, reject or tentatively accept:
ConclusionFindTime is a great tool that I am sure a lot of users will like. Personally, the main problem I find with it is the user impersonation problem which might make it unviable for some organizations.
In this article we explored the new FindTime Outlook extension that helps users scheduling meetings.