Meetings Meetings Meetings!
Rob Chorley discusses the productivity lost to diary-juggling and meeting organisation and shares Microsoft FindTime, a great, free and secure way to take the pain away.
Oh no…not another meeting. Not another hour or two hours or even longer sat in a room – most likely virtual these days – with thoughts ranging from, if badly run, how its sapping the life out of your very existence, through to, if well run, how useful it will have been.
But in all honesty, how much thought will any of us have given to the individuals who have spent possibly several hours at a time organising each of those meetings we need to drive our great outcomes? The liaising with attendees and their teams, the comparing of those tiny windows of availability, the multiple re-re-rescheduling as a result of the change or even incorrect availability reported.
In researching the true pain felt in this space, I spoke to the Personal Assistants of two director-level technology leaders.
What I learned
Those two directors each attend an average of 7 meetings a day through the course of any month
On average 3 of those meetings are organised by their PA’s
On average, of those 3 meetings, 2 will be for 3 or more attendees
For meetings where there are 3 or more attendees, on average it takes 60 minutes (actual effort) to organise those meetings. This includes chasing responses.
For meetings where there are only 2 attendees, on average it takes 10 minutes (actual effort) to organise those meetings. This includes chasing responses.
On average, 2 meetings a day need to be reorganised (1 of 2 attendees and 1 of 3 or more attendees)
In real life practice, just those basic facts equate to :
Time spent organising meetings with 3 or more attendees
10 hours per week
Time spent organising one-to-one meetings
0.8 hours per week
Time spent re-organising meetings with scheduling conflicts
6 hours per week
Total time spent per person.
16.8 hours per week
That’s an average 117.6 days a year someone spends organising meetings for one Director.
In terms of the impact on a PA’s time, this is what it looks like:
While PAs and Diary Managers have the biggest drain on their time, anyone who organises meetings for themselves will have this issue to some extent.
It doesn't have to be that way
The PA’s I spoke to both agreed vehemently (and I as someone who manages my own diary fully agree – yes that’s a hint to you Managing Partners of TT !! 😊) that the most time consuming part of the whole process - you could say the scourge of organising meetings – is finding the right time that works for all of the attendees.
Imagine taking that pain away. Imagine a world where finding that perfect slot, that sweet spot where everybody just agrees, is so, so easy. Or even not having to find that slot yourself at all? Wouldn’t that be a meeting organiser’s heaven ?
Well it’s no longer just a dream. Microsoft’s FindTime Outlook add-in has made that dream come true.
What is it?
Microsoft FindTime is a meeting scheduler which allows for really simple collation of all the times people prefer for each meeting and then delivers the meeting invitation based on a reached consensus.
No more reams of emails, instant messages and phone calls to align people’s calendars. No more spending hours negotiating across multiple attendees. No more knock-on rescheduling of other meetings.
There are several such tools available online (doodle.com being a popular example), but what sets FindTime apart is its integration with Microsoft 365, meaning it can look into diaries in your organisation and automatically send out invitations on your behalf.
How does it work?
The meeting organiser starts an email to the attendees and hits the "New Meeting Poll" button
The organiser then picks dates and times based on their availability and that of colleagues in their organisation. FindTime will show this helpful screen with attendee figures coloured green or red to show free time.
FindTime will then put "ON HOLD" notes in the organiser's calendar to keep those times free and automatically create an email to the recipients asking to confirm what times they can attend and which they prefer.
The responses can be viewed in an online poll on Microsoft 365, should who has responded and their preferences with a nice visual summary:
Once all attendees have responded, assuming there is a consensus on at least one slot, Findtime will:
1. Send out the invitation automatically and notify the organiser.
2. Delete the "On Hold" notes from meeting times that weren't used in the organisers diary.
Does it make a difference?
Yes it does!
My team and I have been testing it in Through Technology and across a number of external organisations, and I can honestly say that, quite simply, there is no chance of us going back to the old ways of working.
So now back to our two test case PA’s.....
I asked them to try the FindTime Add-in. This is the difference it made to them:
The graph shows that each PA’s availability for other work has increased by a whopping 33% which equates to more than 1½ days per week per person. Across the course of a full year, that equates to 78 days of time which has been made available for more interesting, rewarding and business beneficial work!
What else do I need to know?
What does it cost?
It’s a free Microsoft Add-in which will work for meeting organisers with any Enterprise and Education licensed Office 365 account. It works for any meeting attendee, whether they use Microsoft 365 or not.
Is it safe, secure and compliant for my organisation?
FindTime encrypts private information about the meeting and stores it in the organiser’s Microsoft 365 mailbox, in the same place and with the same protection as your normal meeting data. This means every recipient’s identity and individual email responses can be protected.
It says it's a "Microsoft Garage Project", what does that mean for me?
Microsoft's "Garage" is a programme they run to develop tools quickly and simply and get them out to customers and staff. Its the birth place for many tools and features that will eventually be rolled into Microsoft 365 tools like Outlook, at which point you can simply remove it.
What if I'm not a Microsoft Office 365 user?
You can still receive invitations and meeting polls from FindTime, but the meeting organiser features rely on Office 365. There are other options out their like doodle.com which provide meeting polls, but you should check whether the personal information (attendee details) and meeting data is stored securely.
How do I start?
You can find all the information and start using FindTime at https://findtime.microsoft.com.