5 Common Collaborative Scheduling Faux Pas

Increasingly, my contacts seem to be turning to web-based calendars for maintaining their schedule. Those who work predominantly in the online environment, that is. The others still tend to use Outlook (s msft), iCal (s aapl) and physical diaries.

I’ve heard mounting complaints about the Google-centric (s goog) focus of web workers from those using other scheduling tools, but the fact is that the plethora of tools designed to make scheduling easy can actually make it more difficult if basic scheduling etiquette isn’t adhered to. Are you guilty of these scheduling faux pas?

1. Assuming your contacts use your calendar of choice.

Before you start setting meetings in your calendar and using its invitation function to invite others, make sure that the invitations will display correctly for users who aren’t using your calendar of choice.

When I send Google Calendar invitations to some of my contacts, the emails they receive contain no information. Many email users are stuck with clients that can render your invitation emails unusable, if not unreadable. Many calendar tools are flaky, at best, when it comes to reliably displaying in all email clients.

If you’re not sure what calendar tool your contact uses, IM them or send them a quick email ahead of the invitation, so that they know your invitation is coming and can let you know if it doesn’t display properly for them.

2. Giving contacts access to your calendar without forewarning them.

A couple of months ago, I received an email from a contact using Google Calendar to alert me to the fact that I’d been given access to a particular calendar of theirs. The calendar was related to their work, but not directly related to the work I was doing for them.

Why had they given me access? I had no idea. I expected I’d soon receive an email explaining the situation … but I didn’t. I resolved to ask the contact next time I saw then, but forgot. More than two months have passed and I still don’t know why I have access to this calendar. Was it a mistake? Was I supposed to do something with this information? Don’t leave your contacts wondering what in heck you’re doing when you share your calendar with them.

Before you give contacts calendar access, send them a courtesy email to tell them what you’re doing, and why. Ask if they know how to use shared calendars. And after you’ve given them access, check back with them to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do with the information you’re giving them.

3. Inviting contacts to a meeting without explanation.

In my experience, Outlook users seem to be better at explaining in the invitation why the meeting’s been called than do the contacts I have who use web-based calendars. Perhaps the reason is that Outlook’s often used by big corporates, which have clear expectations of communication, where web-based tools tend to be used more commonly in the disparate world of remote workers, startups and small web operations.

I constantly receive invitations to meetings without any explanation. If I don’t know any more about the meeting than what you’ve called it in your calendar, then how will I know if it’s important I attend? How will I know how to prepare for the meeting?

It’s basic courtesy to tell people who’s time you require exactly why you need it. This can help them prioritize their commitments, and it shows you respect their time, which is always beneficial in building strong working relationships.

4. Moving a meeting without explanation.

If you schedule a meeting at the wrong time by accident, or need to move it, make sure you explain that in the updated invitation. Fail to do so, and confusion is guaranteed.

Recently, a meeting I’d agreed to attend was rescheduled without explanation. The new time was inconvenient, but I had no idea whether I should reschedule my other commitments, because the rescheduled time was the only one that a key team member could make, or whether this was a reshuffle that had a degree of flexibility to it. Perhaps it had been moved erroneously, as a mere slip of the finger as my contact moused over their calendar. Who knew? More emailing and IMing ensued as I tried to sort out the finer details.

Make sure you give contacts as much information as you can when you need to reschedule a meeting, so they can let you know as soon as possible if they can make the new time, or if other commitments must take priority. the more information you give, the more swiftly you’ll be able to arrive at a mutually acceptable time.

5. Rescheduling a meeting without deleting the original time from contacts’ schedules.

I currently have a single meeting scheduled at three different points in my calendar. The contact who arranged this meeting has had to reschedule it a number of times. But he doesn’t include any information about the new meeting times in his emails, and he doesn’t delete the previously-arranged meetings from contact’s calendars (even if he did, that functionality may not work for all scheduling tools).

Which time is the right one? The most recent one? Your guess is as good as mine. Whatever the case, it certainly makes scheduling my other work difficult. If you don’t trust your calendar’s ability to delete a previously scheduled meeting from a contact’s calendar, email them and confirm that you need to shift the meeting.

Better Collaborative Scheduling

It might hurt to accept it, but in some cases, reverting to the good old group email might wind up being the quickest, least frustrating way to schedule meetings.

In most cases where you’re coordinating meeting times with others who don’t work in your organization, or using the same tool, your electronic calendar probably needs to be supported by courtesy emails if it is to actually save you time and make diary management more efficient.

In all cases, include as much information as you can with the invitation: an agenda, an explanation of why you need the invitee to attend, an alternative time if there are few invitees, and you have some flexibility around when the meeting takes place, and so on.

Do you have any collaborative scheduling horror stories? Which tools do you use?

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