The modern business environment is very different to the one we knew just twenty-five years ago, both in how business is approached and how the day-to-day operation of a small business, an office or a department is managed. Technology has changed many roles, where a secretary was once responsible for typing up correspondence and scheduling meetings, today, junior managers are more often than not expected to write their own emails, and certainly organizing a meeting for themselves would be part of their responsibilities.
Some may see this as a reduction in the value of the management role, but in truth in the modern, fast paced world of business, scheduling meetings is hugely important and is in fact a significant responsibility. With ever more work being packed into the day, more pressure and more expectation in terms of results, creating a meeting schedule is a difficult process, and it can become a stumbling block for anyone. However, there are ways to approach scheduling a meeting that can make things much easier for both the organizer and the attendees.
Ideas of Successfully Scheduling
There are several tools available today that make such planning a simpler process, however it is important to understand the basic idea of successfully scheduling a meeting before we look at the best way to accomplish it.
The first thing to consider is who is the priority of the meeting. That is, who is the most important person at the meeting, whose timetable the other attendees will defer to. For those working in a client serving sector, the answer is the client, and meetings should be scheduled to their preference above all others. However, an interdepartmental meeting, or meeting with suppliers could yield a different answer. Who is the most important attendee must always be the first question answered, no matter what the situation of the meeting scheduling being carried out.
Once the priority attendee is identified, the process of scheduling a meeting should be built around that person. By finding out the times they are available and working outwards to other attendees a meeting schedule can be created to accommodate all attendees needs.
However, as with most things today, there are many tools available for us now that can make the process of scheduling meetings a more streamlined and less time-consuming activity. This is especially useful for those that operate globally, or use remote employees, where meetings can be attended by people operating on different time zones using digital communications.
How to Choose a Meeting Tool
With so many offerings on the market, you often see lists of reviews outlining which meeting scheduling tool is the best one available, but there are a couple of problems with this kind of approach. Firstly, software is ever evolving, such lists are out of date as soon as they are written, and secondly, we are all different, and a tool that works best for one may not be for someone else.
With that in mind, it is more useful to outline the critical features that a useful tool should have, as this will allow users to narrow down their search and try the few that match those needs to find the best one for them. With free trials available, users can get a good look at each one anyway, and hands on experience is really the only place to make a judgement on software and how it fits into each unique work style.
The first, and most important thing to assess is how the contact process works. What each individual needs from the software will vary depending on their specific working situation. However, thinking about the process of prioritizing the main attendee and building the meeting scheduling around that, having the ability to quickly contact the attendee group and offer them several dates that the primary attendee has suggested is the core function of the software. There are many approaches to this, some integrate into the organizer’s email and calendar for an easier workflow, some use proprietary web based interfaces that allow others to register their preferred dates. One, Rally, uses a poll system to allow attendees to vote for the most suitable date and time from a choice.
When choosing the right software tool, think about how it is used, for those that use Office and Outlook for everything, a tool that can integrate with that could be very useful, others integrate with Google services for a complete online solution. The benefit of the tools is that they remove the endless email chains that can be the result of trying to manually ask every attendee dates and juggling availabilities when scheduling a meeting. The right tool will allow a single operation to ask all attendees about dates, and collate answers together so that they can also bet retrieved in a single operation as well.
The actual process of asking and receiving answers is obviously the most important part of choosing the best tool, but there is another aspect. Scheduling meetings for a few people locally is very different from scheduling a meeting of dozens or more across a global operation, and as you may expect, some tools are specialized in one area. Finding the tool that also fits the volume of both meetings and attendees is important, and if it is expected to deal with scheduling meetings very frequently, multiple meetings at once or with large numbers of attendees, looking to the more professional end of the market that are designed for that is crucial.
Overall, no matter what your needs, there is a scheduling tool available, finding the right one takes more than reading reviews though, try them out and see which fits into your workflow better, which you, and just as importantly your attendees, find easiest to work with. For client facing businesses, this last part can be especially important, if you will be contacting clients through the meeting scheduling tool, ensuring it matches your client expectation levels is crucial.
Scheduling a meeting can be a minefield, juggling various schedules to create something that works for all, but with forethought and the right planning tool, it need not be the email nightmare meeting schedules often end up being today.