We’ve nearly all been there. You have several colleagues gathered for a meeting in the conference room, only to find that someone else is already using it for their meeting.
Trying to keep track of meeting room scheduling or who was the last one to use the company projector can be challenging. And the disruption of a bad reservation system can cause all sorts of problems, such as:
- Double booked meetings
- Client inconvenience
- Expensive equipment being lost
- Wasted time and lost productivity
Whether you’re using a big sheet at the office manager’s desk or a “free for all” system for room and equipment reservations there is a better way to do it if you’re a Microsoft 365 user.
We love showing customers how to do things more easily, especially if it involves using the tools they already have. Efficiency improvements in business networks and processes can mean hours saved each week in manual tasks.
Here’s How to Automate Resource Scheduling
More than 40% of surveyed employees spend at least 25% of their time on repetitive tasks. Doing manual and repetitive tasks are a real productivity killer. And while automation may sound like it’s going to take a lot of work, this Outlook automation trick is quick and easy.
Here’s how it works.
You are going to have Outlook’s Scheduling Assistant keep track of when and by whom your meeting rooms and shareable equipment resources are being used.
One of the best parts is that your users are going to follow the same workflow they do when they schedule any of their meetings.
By using this tip, you both automate your resource scheduling and ensure you always know who the last person was to check out an expensive piece of equipment.
Step 1: A Microsoft 365 Admin Sets Up Room/Equipment Mailboxes
Microsoft 365 has special mailboxes for resources. They don’t need to have their own user license and are used for scheduling, not emailing.
Your first step will involve setting up one resource mailbox for each meeting room and piece of sharable equipment that you have. Equipment could include things like tools, A/V equipment, or company vehicles.
Have an employee that has administrative privileges sign into Microsoft 365 admin center. Go to the “Resources” area and then to the “Rooms & Equipment” page.
On this page, select “Add.”
They will be presented with an entry form into which they’re going to fill in the following details:
- Mailbox type (Room or Equipment)
- Name (name it something everyone will recognize)
- Email to use (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org)
- If it’s a room, add the capacity
- Location of the resource
- Phone number (the number of the room itself)
Then click “Add” to save the mailbox. Mailboxes can be edited from this screen as well.
Security Tip: You’ll want to block sign-in for your resource mailboxes to better secure them from potential account hacks.
Step 2: Decide if You Want Anyone to Manage the Mailboxes
Room and equipment mailboxes don’t have to be managed by anyone, they can be completely put on autopilot. What this means is that when you schedule the resource, you don’t have to wait for an approval.
If you happen to want someone to oversee your resource scheduling, then you’ll want to put them in charge of managing each mailbox. What this does is instead of a resource being booked automatically when users schedule it, the person managing the resource will need to accept or decline the meeting request.
You’ll edit this per your needs in the Exchange admin center, under “Recipients” > “Resources.”
Other mailbox options that you’ll find here include:
- Allow repeat meetings
- Allow scheduling only during work hours
- Time limit controls
Step 3: Have Users Follow This Process for Scheduling Resources
Once the room and equipment mailboxes are set up, the process is very easy for your users. They will basically just treat the resource mailbox as any other user.
When a person wants to reserve a meeting room or sign-out a piece of equipment, they’ll schedule a meeting in Outlook.
Here is the process:
- Either from Outlook’s email or calendar pane, use the menu option to schedule a New Meeting.
- Add the resource that you want to book as a meeting attendee.
Resources will show up in the dropdown list next to users in your organization. Note, this is why it’s important to use a resource name everyone recognizes.
- Add any other meeting attendees that you want to invite. Or if there are none (i.e., you’re reserving a company vehicle), go onto the next step.
- Enter your meeting information, such as description, day and times.
- Click the Scheduling Assistant at the top to see if the resource is available. Next to its name, you’ll see the availability (white) and times that it is reserved (blue). Choose an open time availability and click “Send” to save.
- You will now have the resource booked if the process is automated. If there is a mailbox manager, then you’ll need to wait for them to accept the meeting to ensure you have the room or equipment reserved.
And that’s it! The Scheduling Assistant in Outlook keeps track of all your resource scheduling for you and all users have to do is just add the resource as a meeting attendee like they would anyone else. Easy!
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