Microsoft ‘Bookings with me’ (and all the other auto-booking options)

Microsoft released Bookings several years ago which was a great solution that originated from the small business side, allowing customers to book times with a company such as a hairdresser; anywhere that having timeslots available against one or more employees made sense.

This expanded out to Enterprise users, and I used it myself to provide external people a way to book time with me easily. Through a link, they would get taken to a portal with some basic options I’d configured, and based on my own calendar’s availability plus the options (such as 1 hour meetings between 10am and 2pm), anyone with that link could create a meeting with me.

The catch was that someone would need to configure this in a Microsoft 365 tenant, which created another account and a special calendar to manage this. A user couldn’t set this up themselves if things like Group Creation are restricted.

This is where Bookings with me comes in. Currently available worldwide in preview (July 2022), if enabled on your tenant and you have any of the below licenses, you can enable and starting using Bookings with me:

  • Office 365: A3, A5, E1, E3, E5, F1, F3
  • Microsoft 365: A3, A5, E1, E3, E5, F1, F3, Business Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium

Meeting organising options

There’s 4 native Microsoft solutions I’m aware of (beyond Scheduling Assistant in Outlook for Microsoft 365!):

FindTime

Scheduler and Cortana

Bookings

Bookings with me

FindTime is available as an Outlook add-in or can be accessed via https://findtime.microsoft.com/. It’s designed to be used contextually when you’re trying to organise. Tell it who you want to invite, pick several time options (and if you have their free/busy, it will firstly show times everyone is available), send out the invite. Recipients vote on which times work for them, and once the votes are in, a meeting is booked. An online guide is available talking through all this and if you aren’t already using FindTime, I highly recommend checking it out.

Cortana can also organise a meeting for you using Scheduler. In an email, you tell Cortana to book at meeting without any special commands, and she sorts it out with everyone. I need to play with this one more, as it sounds too easy to do! Watch the video here to get a better idea how it works.

Bookings creates a special calendar that can be used by other people to book time with you. They go to a webpage and select from options you’ve configured, and it’ll create a meeting. This can be with 1 or more people, or from a selection of people.

Bookings with me is like a lighter version of Bookings, and it’s in the name – it can only be with you, but similar booking rules can be created, and the other person books you through a web page.

The original Microsoft Bookings can be accessed by going to your Outlook mailbox and down the left side, click the ‘b’ logo:

This will take you to a page where you can get started with Bookings.

However, Bookings with me is different and can’t be accessed that way. Instead, go to your calendar on Outlook for the web, and if available/allowed in your tenant, there will be a ‘Create bookings page’ link you can use – or just try this link: https://outlook.office.com/bookwithme/me

Once there, you’ll be presented with two options; public, and private.

Both of these options create rules on what will appear for people to be able to book with you, the difference being one everyone can see, and the other only viewable with a specific link. Good if you want to give certain people extra options/special access/longer meetings and so on.

Regardless of the choice you pick, the options shown are the same, and you can change your mind once you’re in it anyway between public and private.

The options are fairly self explanatory here, you can decide if it’s a Teams meeting or not, how long the meeting will go for, and if you want buffer or lead times.

It’s worth just creating a very basic meeting option, because it takes a little while for your Bookings with me page to get created (roughly 5-10 minutes for me, others have reported up to 30 minutes):

When done, you’ll then have the option to be able to share your Bookings page.

The link will be unique to your page. Here’s what someone clicking the link sees:

Note that consumer Microsoft accounts aren’t supported – it’s a work or school account, or guest. Once in, you’ll then see the meeting types and times available for each type:

You’ll be asked for basic details – Name and Email are mandatory, with notes letting the person hopefully tell you why they want the meeting. A guest needs to verify their email address with a verification code, and then both parties receive the meeting invite.

That’s really it. A simple idea that’s executed well. It’s a hugely useful way of letting people book a time with you and not needing to go back and forth around availability. The other options at the top of this post are better ways when there’s more people involved at your end, but for what it’s trying to achieve, I use it as much as I can.

Regardless of which option you pick – avoid trying to manually organise meetings if you can’t see everyone’s availability for yourself!

How To Be A Good IT Manager

Although I am no longer a manager of people, I was one for a bit more than 10 years up until very recently. Here’s my thoughts and personal experience on what works and doesn’t work in managing in IT. You’ll notice a lot of it is people management, because without these people you can’t be successful. A lot of this will relate to being a manager in general, and even if you aren’t a manager, you’ll hopefully agree that this is what you want to see from your own supervisor.

How to be a good IT Manager

  1. Be there for your staff
  2. Improve your staff
  3. Show that you need your staff
  4. Have a collaborative team
  5. Leverage your experts
  6. Work with other departments
  7. Work with the CEO
  8. Be in control

Be there for your staff

A primary aspect of being a manager is to enable your staff. You’re there for them and on their side to see them be successful in their role. The trickier part is working out what the staff need for this success, as sometimes they don’t know themselves. Some like being left alone to do their own thing with occasional check-ins, and others will want frequent discussions. Regardless, they all want to know that you’ve got their back and can come to you whenever they feel the need.

Alternatively, nobody likes to be micromanaged. If you feel like you need to get heavily involved, first ask if they’d like you to do so. If they do, great you’re helping. If not, work out how else you can help.

Improve your staff

Once you’ve worked out how your staff ‘tick’, you can work on improving those things. You can’t expect everyone to work the same – the same pace, the same skills, the same output – but you can work to improve these things.

A staff member might be very unsure of themselves and need constant reassurance. For this, you might need to work on getting them to come to you later and later in the piece once they seem to be on the right track, and instead of asking you straight away what to do, get them to work out what they think they should do and check with you at the end before enacting it. Small changes like this can help build the confidence of someone so they can see their own abilities. If they keep getting it wrong, then there’s another issue which could be knowledge, and they need training or a buddy to shadow for a while to see how someone else does it.

You’ll also need to bring in constructive criticism. People take this differently and you might not find out the right approach until you try something – but when providing feedback on where someone could do better, always approach it as a learning experience. You’re not telling people off; you’re identifying something that could have been done better; and let’s work together to identify what went wrong and how that can be avoided next time.

Show that you need your staff

This one is low effort but may need a conscious effort to do and needs to be continual. Thank your staff when they do something you’ve asked them to do. Thank them when they’ve just done something well. In catchups, point out the things they do well. Try to make sure no single staff member is a silo, and encourage them to share with others. If they want to own the thing they love doing, let them own it – but there needs to be backup when they aren’t around. Random acts of kindness go down too – you don’t need a trigger to show that you value the work your team does, drop in some occasional snacks, gift cards, or team building fun – which could just be a nice lunch.

Have a collaborative team

Good communication is the most critical aspect of having a team that works well together. Usually not communicating enough is how a team breaks down, but it can also be a lack of clear communication. Encourage your team to talk amongst themselves but be inclusive of the whole team. Err on the side of inviting too many people in and make it acceptable for people to say they don’t need further comms on a topic.

As a manager, you need to feed information to the right areas, but also consider that more than just the key people should be involved. You may think that Operations don’t need to know about Projects, and Developers don’t want to know about Infrastructure – and you’d probably be right – but that doesn’t mean these teams should never talk. Don’t assume on behalf of others what they might or might not want to know about, again keep communication open and broad, but to the point, which lets staff themselves decide what they want to know about or not.

Leverage your experts

Keep up to date on the industry as a whole, and leverage staff who have specific interests/responsibilities and use them as your advisors. You can’t know everything, and having good advisors shows your trust in those people and their work. If you can’t find good internal advisors, then get external ones. Some topics might need constant external guidance, where others might just need occasional deep dive expertise. Sometimes the constant external guidance costs will then prove the need for creating a new internal resource.

Understand your costs and contracts. It might be too time consuming to know about every existing contract, but work out when they end and how much you need to know, compared to again bringing in the experts to guide you through it.

Try not to have just a single expert on any topic – if you can’t have more than 1, then at least try to find someone that can start skilling up and learn from the expert. Hopefully the expert will like having someone else around that actually cares about the topic as much as they do.

Work with other departments

Being an IT Manager isn’t just about IT. It’s about enabling the entire business’s IT functions. Frequently catch up with both leaders in other departments, and other key staff that might fall into a department, but have their own sub-section that the leader won’t be as across as someone on the ground that owns that sub-section (for example, Payroll may fall under Finance). Find out where they are on projects, what pain points they have (and don’t limit this to I.T. – let them tell you what they’d like to share. It might give you extra context on what’s going on in the company, or it might end up being a process that could be improved with IT’s involvement). You’ll build up relationships and trust, while getting a better understanding of the business from different perspectives.

Work with the CEO

Whatever the leaders of your business are called, you’ll need to understand what they care about. Usually it’s money driven – without money the business can’t exist (or in some cases, it will still exist, they’ll just get new leaders). Find out what other drivers they have too – sometimes an open question of ‘What do you want to see from IT?’ can be a good starting point. They probably won’t care about your issues ( those are for you to solve), but if you do need to raise something because you need their approval, make sure you come with a recommended solution or two.

Be in control

Be confident but not cocky about your position. You’re there to do a job and perform a certain role – this doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers, but you do need to take everything on to get a result. Get your vendors to tell you what they do for you and what value they provide. Make them accountable for the work they do for you, and if you don’t understand or don’t like what they’re doing, dig deeper. Bring others in for extra viewpoints.

Run frequent meetings where you think they’re needed. Ask others what they think are needed to – you should be continually touching base with your team. Be flexible, don’t keep doing something that doesn’t work, and listen to feedback to improve efficiencies. Maybe one meeting needs to be fortnightly rather than weekly, or maybe another meeting needs a bigger audience to avoid double-ups.

Make directional decisions once you have enough information to do so; don’t flip-flop, but also don’t be so rigid that once a decision is made, it can’t be altered.

Other quality management skills

Be honest, be open. You need people to trust you to be successful in your role. This doesn’t mean walking around telling people what you think of them; but it does mean you’ll work towards what’s best for both the business and the employees.

Be structured in what you do – make things like projects clear and visible to all those who want to see them.

Be fair to your staff. Nobody wants to see someone else as the favorite, nor do they want to feel less important than someone else. Find the value in everyone and be their supporter, and make sure the rest of the team knows the strengths and special skills everyone else has.

Work out what you can delegate. You can’t do everything which is why you have a team. Delegating isn’t removing responsibility from yourself; it’s sharing it with others. Make sure you have the person’s buy in to what you’re delegating, and that you’re there to help them if they need it. It will help skill them up in areas they might have less experience with, or give them more variety in their role.

Find colleagues in different companies and industries you can catch up with to get outside ideas, guidance, and support from – and give the same back to them!

Hopefully this summary of what I found worked will also work for you. Did I miss anything? What else makes a good IT Manager?

My work/life changes – I’m Now At Microsoft

Hello everyone! You may have noticed things have been quiet here for the last few months, so I wanted to explain what has been going on, where I am now, and what the future looks like.

Up until recently I was in an IT Director position. This is of course a much less hands-on technical role which was resulting in less of my general ‘this is a technical problem that I couldn’t find a solution to online, so I worked it out myself and here’s what I did’ blog posts which I enjoy writing and sharing.

I also stopped writing my weekly roundups of TechCommunity. Although they were useful for me to write, in that I’d learn what was going on and had a few people comment the round-up was useful – they’re really only good content for a short period of time for a reasonable amount of effort, and my blog is more of a library of interesting information rather than ‘news’.

Even my Twitter was suffering (or benefiting if you don’t like my tweets) – the random observations/questions/discussions that I use the platform to throw things at as part of processing thoughts or getting the hive-mind’s opinions back on was not being used.

Another point around the above is where I was mentally. I was becoming checked-out generally and didn’t like where my mind was, which was an ‘indifferent to too much’ state and was finding it harder to buy into what I needed to do to do my role best. I was missing passion for my work and had changed from waking up and looking forward to what I’d get up to. There are many factors that affects something like this which I won’t get into the details of; but I knew I needed to change something. The whole ‘great resignation/reshuffle‘ generally aligned with my situation – for example I wanted to be at home with my family and kids more, and have more flexibility in when I could work or not work, and come into the office or work from home… harder to do as an IT Director, as I hold a high expectation on what I do and deliver.

An opportunity came up after applying to work for Microsoft as a Customer Success Account Manager. The role aligned with a lot of what I enjoyed – being across Microsoft technologies, talking to others about how they can keep up with and move along the technology track and use the products they’re already paying for, as well as a high degree of autonomy. There’s even an aspect of keeping customers up to date with what’s new and coming from Microsoft – somewhat aligns with my TechCommunity posts above, doesn’t it?

So, that’s what I’ve spent the last 2 months doing. Wrapping up the old role, and starting a rather different, but in some ways still similar, role at the company I’d aligned a lot of my working career with. I wanted to focus on the offboarding and onboarding without other distractions, and get through that big change.

You may have also noticed that I’d had to rebrand this website a bit. Along with onboarding, I had to hand in my Microsoft MVP badge – so that’s all gone now. The good news is that this blog didn’t exist to service that title, it was a nice reward but not really a driving factor. I still like to write to help my brain process what I’ve learnt or sharpen my understanding of a topic as I research while writing to make sure I’m getting it right.

At the time of writing, I’m week 2 into the new Microsoft role – a lot more to learn, but having a different challenge and being thrown way out of my comfort zone was something I needed to help get re-engaged in my work. What I’m hoping is that this will also lead to some new blog posts – probably (definitely) less PowerShell commands, and potentially some more higher level considerations or gotchas that align with what I need to learn as a part of my new role.

Looking forward to seeing what life in Microsoft is like and how my life will change around having a more flexible role!

Climate Wizard CW-3 Indirect Evaporative Cooler – My Experience

I moved house a bit over a year ago – a bigger, newer house but with an older evaporative air conditioner. Before even moving in I wanted a new air conditioner sorted as I’m rather ‘heat intolerant’. My online research into air conditioning options stumbled across something new – not refridgerated, but an evaporative cooler that didn’t make the air humid. It was the Seeley International Climate Wizard CW-3, and it was only available in South Australia while they were piloting a smaller model for home use. The technology has been around for a while used in businesses (such as McDonalds), and claimed somewhere between 60-80% energy savings compared to ducted refrigerated cooling.

The unit also has an option of connecting a gas heater to it, but I already had ducted gas heating in the house that worked, so didn’t take that option.

It seemed like an obvious choice – better for the environment, and providing as good cooling as any other option out there. I spent considerable time with a reseller of the product, getting my head around this expensive decision that I’d have to live with. Beyond having to have extra reinforcement in the ceiling/roof due to the weight of the unit, there didn’t seem to be much else to worry about, so I went ahead with the install.

Once installed, I realised one component I overlooked – zoning. I had just assumed this had controls for rooms so I could turn rooms off/on, or focus the cooling in a certain area. It doesn’t do that. It also flushes at least daily, which comes out of a black hose on the roof. This is just resting up there and overfills the gutters, pouring off the house. This is probably easily fixed by working out a better location for the hose, but I’ve also realised when turning on the A/C or when it decides to take water, it will affect water pressure in the rest of the house. A bit annoying, but I can live with this.

Also, the A/C is still an evaporative unit. It either needs doors/windows open to work, or an inlet inside the house (not an option I was presented with, but their documentation indicates

What I can’t live with however, is the lack of actual coolness the A/C unit provides. If it’s not that hot outside, it actually works quite well. I had a problem where it would actually cool too much at night, and without zoning I had to turn the entire unit off even if some rooms were warmer than others. Worse than this though, is when it’s warm (roughly above 32oC), I can’t get the indoor temperature below 23oC. The hotter it gets, the worse the unit performs. Below is an example of the unit showing 33oC outside the house. Rather than setting a cooling temperature to aim for, I’ve set the speed to 10 – as high as it goes (there’s no 11 sorry). You can see the unit shows the indoor temperature as 25oC.

After the first year of having the unit, I had real doubts that I’d raised with the installers but weren’t addressed. To protect my family, I ended up installing three split systems in the bedrooms over winter, in case it became hot. When the above happened, I checked the temperatures they reported:

This is just way too hot. For the second summer I raised my issues again, and had multiple technicians out. When a Seeley technician came out and I showed them the above, they said they didn’t know how the temperature worked on another manufacturer’s units or how accurate it was.

The company hasn’t been great in responding, as getting someone out in the afternoon on a hot day seems to be a challenge. I’m waiting for the next hot day (and we’re not seeing many of those now) to have a team look at the entire setup. I just want the unit gone, and use a ducted refrigerated unit. I know those work, and I have solar on the house so plenty of ‘free energy’ to use during the day.

The owner manual is available here if you want to have a read. I found the unit performed even worse on humid days – which doesn’t happen much in South Australia – and the manual ‘covers’ this buy saying it just doesn’t reduce the temperature as much as on drier days. Great.

I also looked back at their case study on McDonalds and found one key phrase. They use this technology in conjunction with the refrigerated cooling system.

At this stage I’m still waiting for Seeley to come good – they want to see the unit not working for themselves, but I don’t know how they can resolve this as I’m struggling to see how it’s a fit for purpose unit by itself. Maybe there’s something special about my environment and unit, and others are having an amazing experience; I hope so.

Microsoft TechCommunity Top Posts March 2022, Week 1

Here’s my picks of the latest TechCommunity posts that I thought were worth sharing:

Automate your patching using Azure Arc and Azure Automation!

Azure Arc is another Azure service I haven’t used, but looking at this post I really want to know more. You can manage your on-premises servers (also Kubernetes clusters and SQL Servers) in Azure Arc by installing an agent. It’s also free*! to add servers in to manage, but I expect there’s some minimal related expenses with Log Analytics and runbooks. Worth having a play around with, especially if you’ve got minimal Azure services and want something to play with, without migrating actual services in.

Quickly Estimate Replication Time for Azure Migrate Virtual Machines

Posts from Microsoft internal staff on what they’ve done for customers are always helpful. This one’s a simple process on how to calculate an estimate on how long it would take to migrate a VM to Azure using the size of the VM, the bandwidth available, and factoring in 30% compression.

New security solutions to help secure small and medium businesses

Microsoft Defender for Business is out, which is great news for the smaller (or leaner) businesses. A bunch of content here around the product, but also Microsoft 365 Lighthouse for partners to support businesses for those using a partner to manage their security.

New Teams Exchange Integration Test in the Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer

The Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer is a very useful online tool for testing internet connectivity to different services, Exchange, Teams, Skype for Business/Lync amongst others. It’s worth checking what’s there so you’re aware of what it can do before you need it. Also linked is the SARA Client, a nice tool that can detect problems and misconfigurations of local Office installs.

Microsoft Defender for Cloud Price Estimation Dashboard

“How much does cloud cost?” is a much more complicated question compared to on-premises, but such is the price of flexibility and a modular approach to using the bits that you want. Price Estimators like this that are easy to use are valuable to help answer the above question.

Enrolling Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows devices with Microsoft Endpoint Manager

If you’ve looked into Microsoft Teams Rooms devices, you’ve had to look through the differences between Android and Windows based ones. This article focuses on Windows, as you can’t just put a Windows device out there unmanaged; there’s ways you can enrol and manage these devices in Intune (how do you ensure they’re patched etc otherwise?). This is a very long (lots of screenshots!) and detailed article on how to onboard the MTR for Windows type device.

https://twitter.com/MSITTechNews and you can see my previous TechCommunnity picks here https://www.adamfowlerit.com/tag/techcommunity/