Microsoft Bookings – a hidden time-saving tool in the Office 365 toolkit

Microsoft Bookings is customer-facing online booking & scheduling system for users of Office 365. It is part of the value-add tools targeted at small businesses such as Invoicing MileIQ, Listings, Connections, and Outlook Customer Manager.

Originally, Bookings was only available to customers of Business plans however is now available to Enterprise customers as well – while the others are yet to cross the licensing bridge.

What is it, and why would you use it?

Bookings competes with online scheduling systems such as Calendly.com which are gaining in popularity as they cut down on the back and forth of setting appointments by simply publishing your calendar and allowing external people to find available slots.

Apart from being included in the Office 365 suite I’m not sure what the differentiator is for Bookings, but as I was considering using Calendly.com it made sense for me to use Bookings instead.

There are a number of different ways people can schedule meetings and appointments in the corporate world (I’ll be writing a comparison piece on those options soon), whereas Bookings is aimed more at the ‘customer off the street’ market – in that the calendar is made available publicly and anyone can come along and book an appointment.

While I don’t normally focus on small business customers, I think in this new era of customer-centric business approaches this particular tool can serve even enterprises – and not just in retail or small businesses.

How it works

Bookings allows multiple businesses to be set up within a single tenant. This means that external-facing teams can have their own setup, and different users assigned.

Each booking calendar can have different options set such as time increments, lead time (aka notice period) for bookings or cancellations, whether customers can choose specific team members for the booking, language and time zone, business hours, as well as logo and theme.

Once the basics are done staff can be assigned to the booking calendar by selecting their profile from Office 365. Options can be set such as selecting business hours, but also to allow events in their Office 365 calendar to affect availability.

Each calendar can also have different appointments or services set, which can be customised. For myself I don’t expect people to come to me from Facebook or the general web, however have defined a number of different meetings types available for my clients and partners to choose from. In my instance I chose not to put prices in to any of the services as the prices may vary depending on engagement, but also there are plenty of meetings I have with prospective clients or partners where I don’t charge.

When a calendar is published a URL is generated which can be placed on a website, or in my case – added as a link in my email signature:

This has allowed me, my clients and partners to significantly reduce the amount of time we spend trying to organise meetings. It has also allowed them to continue accessing my availability and booking meetings in without even consulting me – which removes myself as a bottleneck.

Who can use this?

If Bookings is enabled in Office 365 – anyone can use it. This page explains how users can access it, and then configure the calendars.

While it is aimed at small businesses I feel that it can be better targeted at small teams. Many organisations will have teams that can benefit this that are not necessarily external or public facing.

What are the shortcomings?

While this tool cuts down time, it also removes human interactions. Some may say in particular scenarios this is not ideal, however if the expectation is set then nobody’s feathers should be ruffled. When directing someone to use the Bookings page – simply explain in one line how this will help.

My two biggest shortcomings are that there is no integration with Skype for Business, and the bookings are not direct. What I mean by the latter is that when appointments are scheduled in Bookings, it is from the system itself – not between the two people. This means that when the booking appears in my calendar, if I move or delete it there is no effect on the actual booking, nor is anything sent to the user. If I want to go back to the person and change the time, I need to do this via the Bookings app or communicate directly.

The fact it doesn’t integrate with Skype for Business is disappointing, as it would save further time if upon the booking creation a Skype for Business meeting was included so people on both sides of the fence could simply connect straight in at the scheduled time – instead of having to send a separate meeting.

Why use this over other methods?

I will be publishing a piece in the coming week comparing a variety of different scheduling tools available to us from Office 365, however why use Bookings specifically:

Bookings vs. Reasons
Publishing or sharing your calendar Individual-based only

Can’t apply rules to the appointment

FindTime Requires a human to initiate the poll
Cortana / calendar.help Requires a human to initiate the conversation
Calendly.com or others Separate tools that add costs

Teams quick tip: the case of the missing Teams meeting add-in

A few months ago, the ability to schedule a meeting in Teams directly was made available in Outlook, and it’s been a wonderful thing.

What you see in the calendar view in Outlook is options for both Skype Meeting and Teams meeting, as well as in the New menu dropdown when in the inbox view:

I had a short moment of panic when I could no longer see the ability to schedule a Teams meeting, as it had disappeared from Outlook:

I compared my desktop against my Surface Pro and found that they had slight variations in build numbers for both Outlook and Teams so I thought that perhaps a bug had been introduced in a newer build on my desktop. I started checking for missing add-in DLLs, registry keys, scouring the web for blog posts, etc.

Then, Office on my Surface went through some updates and Outlook restarted, and presto: the Teams button was missing too!

Long story short, by process of elimination I found that:

  • If Teams is signed in to your home tenant/account when Outlook opens: the Teams Meeting option is there
  • If Teams sign signed into an external tenant/account when Outlook opens: the Teams Meeting option is not there

I suspect for the average user while Teams is somewhat still new in many organisations this is not an issue as users will reside in their home tenant/account.

However in the scenario where a user is in an external network, shuts down their computer at the end of the day, and comes back in the next day: Teams will join back into the last tenant/account is was connected to, and therefore Outlook won’t show the Teams Meeting add-in. To get this functionality back the user will need to switch back to their home tenant/account, restart Outlook, and then the button will be back.

That being said, hopefully as more people move to using Teams as their primary communication and collaboration tool this will be less of an issue as users will schedule meetings directly from the Teams interface (connected of course to their home tenant/account).