How to easily manage scheduling with Microsoft Bookings

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With Bookings, Office focuses on frontline workers by simplifying the process of scheduling appointments and meetings.

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Managing appointments and meetings can be difficult, especially for small businesses, where front-line staff don’t have access to the full Office suite. You can spend time creating a personalized reservation service, or you can just use Microsoft’s reservation tool which is built on its Microsoft 365 platform. Designed for internal and external users, Bookings is a flexible scheduling tool that connects to both Teams and Exchange Online.

Available as part of most Office 365 and Microsoft 365 business subscriptions, using Bookings involves provisioning users from the Microsoft 365 admin console, giving them access to the Bookings web app at from the Office.com launcher. There is also a mobile app that offers quick access to booking calendars, which can also be used to add new appointments manually.

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Reservations for everyone

Reservations can be best viewed as part of Microsoft’s unbundling of core Microsoft 365 services from Exchange and SharePoint, turning them into separate web and mobile apps, as well as integrating them into Teams. This is a big strategic change: the full platform can give us more features, but not all of us need them. A frontline worker doesn’t need all of the Outlook and Exchange scheduling calendar tools, just a way to quickly schedule a client’s appointment.

With organizations able to deploy a mix of Microsoft 365 license types, it’s good to see Bookings part of the F series of plans, aimed at supporting frontline workers with the ability to offer shared accounts for all. employees in one place. A change of team should not affect the calendar used to book services and meetings.

External users have access to a booking page linked either to a global business calendar or to a calendar for specific individuals or teams, using a desktop or mobile browser. The booking page is flexible enough to be delivered through many channels: a link sent via email or text or to a company’s Facebook page. It can even be integrated into any HTML site, like your home page.

This flexibility facilitates the work of the users. In parts of the UK, a reservations-based service has been used to manage appointments for COVID vaccinations, using Microsoft Graph connections and Power Automate feeds to link its calendar to NHS systems. As people became eligible for vaccination doses, they were texted with a link to a booking page, which displayed available appointments.

Getting started with reservations

Getting started with Bookings as a user is quite quick and easy. In the Office portal on office.com, select All apps to see the Reservations app and click the Get Now button. If your administrator has enabled it, you will be asked for the name of a reservation calendar. If there is already one, you can use the search option to connect to it. If you need to create one, provide the name and type of your business. This sets up your reservations account, allowing you to link your existing Outlook calendar and see the availability of other staff.

Integration with calendars means that other events can block appointments. This avoids double bookings, ensuring staff are not overloaded and essential meetings are not canceled. You can also set hours of operation to limit bookings, as well as give staff their own personalized hours to accommodate team members with family and other obligations.

Staff do not need to have a Microsoft 365 account. All they need is a valid email address so they can receive messages detailing reservations and schedule changes. In practice, however, the use of Bookings with Microsoft 365 is of great interest. The main advantage is, of course, the automatic calendar updates, as well as access to the Teams app. You can define specific staff members as administrators, giving them the right to add and remove users as well as edit scheduled bookings.

Other roles have less control. For example, viewers can see their schedules (and those of their colleagues), but cannot make any changes. Most of the staff will be viewers, although some may be guests if they only attend certain scheduled events and do not need any form of calendar access. It is also possible to make certain users superusers, with the possibility of managing the calendar, but which cannot be programmed via Bookings. This requires the use of PowerShell; most other management tools are done through the Bookings web user interface.

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Once you’ve created a calendar for your organization and added staff to it, you can start defining your business departments. These are used to categorize reservations and to populate all external self-service reservations. The services are given a name, a description, whether they are online or not, a duration by default, any buffer time between the appointments and the price (if it is a service). Other features allow customers to reschedule and cancel their own reservations as well as add follow-up appointments. The same time you can define reservation policies – for example, controlling how far in advance customers can create reservations and define your opening hours and cancellation policies.

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Work with clients in reservations

So, for example, if you are making reservations for a hair salon, you can create services for all your different types of appointments, from simple cuts to complex styles. These can be priced and time added, so customers know what they’re going to pay, and you can forecast revenue and make sure you have enough staff on hand to cover booked services (or even allow customers to book sessions with specific staff members). You can receive revenue notifications, allowing you to prioritize certain services and make sure your business covers its costs. Reports are available in four-month blocks as TSV (tab-separated variables) files, ready to use in Excel or other accounting tools, such as Sage.

The system will automatically send reminders and confirmations to users, with .ics calendar files and a well-designed confirmation message. You can customize these messages, and US customers can send SMS messages as well. If you’re using the Teams app, there’s additional tracking data on notifications, so you can be ready for when Microsoft starts billing for SMS services in March 2022.

Integration of teams allows you to quickly build virtual meetings around the combination of the two applications. Microsoft calls these meetings “virtual tours,” with staff members receiving meeting invitations in their Teams calendar. They don’t need to install the Teams Bookings app; it’s more for admins who need to manage calendars and staff without using the web app. By choosing an appropriate business type, you can take advantage of automatic customizations and pre-filled appointment types.

The Teams Bookings app is ideal for staff who use the phone and other tools to schedule meetings. They can create appointments, select staff, and add notes as needed. This information can help prepare staff for the resulting Teams call, giving them the details they need to be ready for the call.

With work patterns still disrupted by the pandemic and unlikely to revert to what was “normal”, tools like Teams and Bookings offer an important way to simplify the management of virtual and physical appointments through the same tool. They’re easy to use, taking what were often manual processes in Outlook or custom apps running on Exchange and turning them into targeted tools that are part of your Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions. What used to be a tool for the experts are now ready for the rest of us, and that’s good for both frontline staff and clients.

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