Many organizations use Outlook to manage e-mails and calendars. Ironically, however, there is seldom required training on how to use some basic features that make a world of difference in communication.

One feature that I’d like to focus on is how to use your Outlook calendar. Although some of the suggestions below might seem basic, I’ve seen too many people, including executives, not use them at all (so for those smarties out there, keep those “duh’s” to yourself).

Setting an Auto-Responder (When You’ll Be Out of the Office)

When you’ll be out of the office for more than a day without e-mail access, use Outlook’s automatic reply feature. This message lets others know how when you’ll be back and who they can contact in the meantime. It also gives people the heads up to make alternate plans in your absence and not leave them hanging as they wait for your reply. After all, they don’t know if, when, or how long you’ll be gone, if you’re just taking a long time to reply, or if you’re simply ignoring them.

Viewing Your Calendar (To Manage Your Time and Communicate Changes)

All right, how to view your calendar is super basic. However, actually looking at it each day is not so basic, because many people don’t. When you arrive at work at the start of your work week, view your upcoming appointments for the week to give you the big-picture view of what to expect and plan out your week.

When you arrive each day, view your appointments for the day for the same reason. That way, if you need to cancel an appointment you can give the other participant(s) notice (the more advance notice, the better). Consider printing the calendar and taking it with you in case you’re away from your computer.

Viewing Your Calendar, Again (Before Going Out of the Office)

Going away? View your calendar before you go and cancel all meetings during that time. Make sure participants receive the meeting cancellation notice. Not your meeting? Decline meeting invites and reschedule the meetings for either before or after your absence.

Viewing Other’s Calendars (When Scheduling Meetings)

Yes, it’s possible (and easy) to view people’s calendars before scheduling meetings with them. This eliminates playing long games of e-mail scheduling ping-pong.

People’s calendars are typically visible by default so you generally won’t need to ask permission to view their basic calendar (which shows available times). If this isn’t the case, simply ask for permission and explain that it’ll make both of your lives easier. The same works in reverse: share your calendar and have them book an open time if they’d rather do it that way (and share the wealth by teaching them how!).

Need to schedule with multiple people? You can view many people’s calendars at one time, and even use the scheduling assistant to find times that are open for everyone. No more endless group e-mails trying to figure it out.

Other Miscellaneous Calendar Etiquette

  • Keep people’s contact info in your phone in case you need to change/cancel meetings but don’t have access to your calendar.
  • If you accept a meeting, go. If you aren’t sure, mark as tentative. If you can’t go, decline. Regardless, provide some response instead of letting the invite just sit there. This gives the organizer a heads-up so they can plan accordingly.
  • Open all meeting invites (double-click to open or use these fancy methods). There are often important details within the invite that get missed including agendas, logistics, and instructions for how to prepare.
  • If you don’t use a computer-based calendar, find other ways to communicate the above information to keep people in the loop.
  • Above and beyond basic etiquette, some people print out and post their daily calendar on their door or cubicle wall. This is an easy way to communicate when you might be available. Again, you can just print a “free/busy” version if you don’t want people knowing the details of your meetings.