Tip o' the Week 322 – Booking meeting rooms (again)


clip_image002As any fule kno, the //build/ conference was on last week. There was lots of news and updates and a good number of the sessions are on Channel9. If you liked Age of Ascent in ScottGu’s keynote, check out the next public Alpha on Saturday 9th April.

Building on last week’s ToW and on a topic that has been covered some time ago, let’s dig deep into the bowels of Outlook, going back almost 20 years to Outlook Forms to solve a very particular problem.

As per ToWs passim (like Eyes), every item (message, contact, appointment etc) you open in Outlook is a bag of data fields that are rendered in front of your eyes by a form. It’s possible to design and publish custom forms to do more stuff, or in this instance, to fulfil a specific function and by pre-populating some data and by hiding other extraneous information.

Show meeting rooms

Meeting rooms are often set up as bookable resources within Exchange & Outlook – so you invite the room to your meeting and it automatically accepts, meaning you’ve reserved that resource. When trying to figure which rooms are free, if you only have a few meeting rooms then it might be easy enough to just show their calendars from the Room List (eg here). If you’re using a more modern version of Outlook and/or have more than a few rooms to deal with, then Room Finder is more useful. See here and here.

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As an end-user, though, you may find that your IT department doesn’t manage the rooms the way you’d like – in a new building, for example, there might be no room list published – so not much help if you’re trying to book a room.

Here’s a somewhat hacked-up solution which might be useful in other ways, though – it involves customising a form of your own, with your favourite rooms shown, so you can quickly check their availability. You could do the same thing with a group of people too, should you want.

Let’s get building

Start by going into your Calendar, and create a blank Appointment form, then follow the steps for adding the Design This Form command to the Quick Access Toolbar (or right-click the Ribbon when in a new clip_image005appointment, choose Customize the Ribbon, then tick the check-box next to the Developer option on the right hand side, which will now show the Developer tab on the Ribbon, with the Design This Form command on it).

clip_image007Now, add the list of meeting rooms (or people) you want to quickly check out by choosing the Invite Attendees option from the main Appointment tab. Once you have the list populated with everyone/every room you want, go into the Design This Form option as above.

Now you’ll have switched to a form clip_image009designer view that shows a bunch of tabs representing pages which can be shown or hidden. On the Appointment tab, clear the tick next to “Display This Page”, which will add brackets around the name of the tab (indicating that it’s now hidden). The only tab that will be shown is the Scheduling Assistant.

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Now that’s all done, Publish the new form as a custom name (something like <building name> Meeting Rooms) then hit the Publish button. This will now save the form into your own Calendar folder, so it will be available from any PC running Outlook.

clip_image013To activate the form, select the time slot you’re looking for in your calendar, then go to New Items -> Custom Forms -> pick your newly-created form.

You’ll now see the custom form will display only the grid view of room availability, with all of the rooms ticked.

You won’t actually use this clip_image015form to make your room booking, but it will let you know which rooms are available and when (or not, as the case may be), so if you manage to find one that’s not booked already, you could right-click its name from the list on the left, copy the name, then paste that into a new appointment you can make for the same timeslot.

Make sure you close down the custom form without saving or sending anything.

This approach is nicely flexible in that you can create your own “lists” of favourite rooms (eg all large customer rooms with AV, or all rooms kitted out with Surface Hub, devices in any location etc).

If your desired selection changes, you can create a new form and Publish As using the name of an existing one to replace it (or open the existing custom form, enter Design This Form mode again, go to the Appointment tab and edit the list of invitees there).

If you’d like to delete old forms then from the main Outlook window, go into File | Options | Advanced | Developers | Custom Forms | Manage Forms, and click on Set… to navigate to your own calendar folder, then delete the forms you no longer need. Phew.

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