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Scheduling 2.0: Three New Approaches

Mar 31, 2008
Team meetings conference calls and virtual appointments are standard fare these days. If any aspect of your job involves coordinating with others (and whose doesn't) you know how tricky it can be to sync schedules. And if you've ever hit "reply all" to an e-mail to try and find a good meeting time, you've felt the pain.

If everyone in your organization uses Outlook with the same exchange server, and makes calendars publicly viewable, you're in luck. Simply do a compare calendar pull-down in Outlook and choose the best available opening. But for the rest of us, scheduling is time-consuming.

The explosion of Web and communication technologies has meant growing availability expectations. Yet, the tools to facilitate scheduling have lagged behind. That's now starting to change, and here are three new approaches involving free resources and tools being developed by Web 2.0 companies.

1. Use a polling/voting application

Several startups have launched tools which use polling to determine optimal meeting times. Examples of such services include MeetingWizard and ScheduleOnce.

You choose a time zone and specify the dates and time frames during which you are available. Invitees rank whether the options are possible or preferred and then input a list of invitees for that meeting. Invitees receive a link leading to a landing page and after invitees have voted, the organizer sees the most popular option.

The process of choosing the ideal time can be a lengthy one during which the calendaring availability of the organizer or other participants may have changed. But for those with complex coordination requirements, polling and voting mechanisms can definitely make scheduling easier.

2. Make your calendar public

In the last few months, two startups have quietly launched innovative services which allow users to publicly share calendars. TimeBridge allows you to post a personal availability link or badge online such as a blog, e-mail signature or social networking page. The availability link/badge points to a web-based calendar and the service also enables users to integrate their Google calendaring applications.

MeetingStarter has a clever methodology for initiating the scheduling process. It combines some of the polling/voting functionality mentioned earlier with an interface in which users broadcast their scheduling availability to selected invitees for one or more events.

Invitees click a link to a dedicated landing page specific to that organizer or meeting and can schedule themselves into the organizer's calendar. These methods do require more work up-front for the organizer but can simplify the task of handling complex scheduling requirements.

3. Use a light-weight collaboration tool

Time spent on scheduling usually follows the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of meetings are difficult to schedule and the calendaring/voting systems work well. But for the other eighty percent, a lighter-weight solution is preferable.

Simply taking the scheduling process from e-mail and moving it to a commonly accessible web page is a major improvement. Services such as Evite built their entire businesses on the one insight that e-mails flying back-and-forth are an inefficient way to arrange large events. The same insight also applies to conference calls, a market segment not addressed by those services.

One increasingly popular approach uses lightweight collaboration tools which enable an organizer to choose a conference call time and indicate whether the timing is negotiable. Invitees are invited to respond with their availability and comment on preferred alternatives. Crucially, this scheduling process occurs on a dedicated web page which is viewable by all participants rather than over a series of one-on-one emails.
About the Author
Andre D. Vanier is the CEO of Rondee, a free conference calling company that was first to market with a lightweight collaboration tool. Vanier speaks extensively on trends in communications and was an early co-founder of the free directory assistance industry.
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