How to Use Microsoft Bookings for Office Hours Scheduling

I’ve written in the past about the glories of using scheduling software to set up appointments with students. It’s great because you can 1) integrate with your calendar, so your new appointments just show up and students can’t schedule when you’re busy; 2) set your availability, and 3) send automatic reminders to your students so they’re less likely to forget about their appointments.

That post described setting this up with a service called Calendly. Sadly my university told me I couldn’t use this software as it doesn’t meet accessibility standards (which, come on, Calendly, it cannot be that hard to fix this, and yet…?!) From my end, I vastly preferred Calendly to any other software options, but I can’t be using inaccessible software in good conscience.

We’re a Microsoft university, for better or worse, so I was advised to switch to the Microsoft scheduling software Bookings. Like many Microsoft products, Bookings is complicated and has way too many features for a humble professor like me who just wants students to be able to schedule appointments. But, ever the tech warrior, I pushed through and eventually got everything set up to work.

To be totally honest, I need to write this down for me, because I’m afraid I’ll forget how I got it working and never be able to recreate it again, but I can pretend I’m writing it down to be helpful, too!

Appointment Types (“Services”)

Bookings uses relentlessly entrepreneurial language, so get used to it!

When I select “Education” as my “business type,” Bookings suggests for me a service that is a one-hour “initial consult” bookable on weekends from 9–5. Obviously we don’t want that for our office hours, but we can’t delete it, so we’ll have to edit it for our initial office hour option.

You can set up different types of appointments, or services, that you’d like your students to be able to schedule. For me, I like to do 1) virtual office hours, 2) in-person office hours, and 3) special appointments.

Initial service setup walkthrough

This is what the walkthrough looks like. Just x out of it—it’s annoyingly restrictive and you’ll just have to change it later anyway.

When you add your first service, Bookings does not actually give you all the options you truly have—they’re trying to make it seem simple in this initial walkthrough, I guess, but I just find this irritating. I recommend closing out of it.

Adding more services and editing services

Accessing the full service options interface

After you’ve gone through the initial setup, you can edit your service further by going to Settings > Services. You can also add a new service here. You get a more elaborate set of options here. I’ll explain a bit about each one.

Basic details

Service name: The service should have a descriptive title like “In-person office hours,” of course. In addition, I like to add on the days of the week that this service is available; in my case for Fall 2021, these were available on Tuesdays an Thursdays, so I titled this event “In-person office hours (Tu/Th).” The reason for this is that students must select a service before they can select a date, so if they know they are not available on Tu/Th, they will know not to even bother selecting this option.

Description: This is not immediately visible to your students.—they have to click an information icon ⓘ to see this info—so you can fill it out if you like, but don’t rely on anyone reading it!

Location: self-explanatory, but note that you must click “Use this location” or select one of the locations from the drop-down in order for it to save. If you don’t click one of those things, your text will remain in the little box, but it will disappear after you click save. Eyeroll.

Add online meeting: This actually should read “add Microsoft Teams meeting.” So I leave this box unchecked if I’m planning on a Zoom meeting.

Duration, buffer time: self-explanatory settings I think.

Price not set: You’ll want to keep this because I don’t think we’re about to charge money for office hours!

Notes: These are internal only, so I don’t see much point in using them for office hours.

Maximum number of attendees: I only meet with students one at a time so I set this to one.

Let customers manage their appointment…: I have this option turned on because I want students to be able to reschedule on their own if they need to.

Availability Options

This is where things start to get hairy, because the options you set up here also interact with availability options set in two other places. The options are self-explanatory so I won’t go into them here; instead I have a separate section on understanding how Bookings works with availability below.

Assign Staff

Assign yourself as the staff member, and then deselect the option “allow customers to choose a particular staff.” Even if you’re the only option, when you have this turned on, it will ask your students who they want to see, which is an annoying extra step for them.

Custom fields

Here you’re presented with both checkboxes to enable/disable the fields as well as a toggle to require the field or not. I leave on email and phone number, but only require email. I turn off address and notes.

You have to set up the custom fields elsewhere before you can enable them here. So to add a custom field, such as “What would you like to work on in this meeting?”, go to Settings > Custom Fields, Add a custom field, and then fill in your question type and the prompt.

Once you’ve saved the custom field, you can go back to Settings > Services > [service name] > Edit service and enable the custom field.

Reminders and notifications

Notify the business: I have this turned on because I appreciate the heads up that a student has scheduled.

Send a meeting invite: They mean a Microsoft Teams meeting invite, not a simple calendar invite, so I have this turned off as I don’t use Teams for office hours.

Enable text message notifications for your customer: I have this turned on—it’s opt-in so students can get them if they want, or not if they don’t.

Additional information for email confirmation: For Zoom meetings, I put a big, bolded, underlined Zoom link here. I also ask students to prepare for office hours by reviewing homework, notes, or feedback first!

Reminders and confirmations: I like to add an email reminder for one day before, sent only to the student (customer) with a simple message like “This is just to remind you about the office hours appointment you scheduled.”

Availability: service availability options, default scheduling policies, staff availability, and business information

Okay, this is the absolute worst part of using Microsoft Bookings: there are four different places where your settings can impact what appointment times show up on your scheduler page. I’m still not 100% clear on how this all works, so I’ll tell you the way I’ve gotten mine into a delicate and functional balance.

In Settings > Service > Edit service > Default scheduling policy, I have “Use the default scheduling policy” toggled off.

In Settings > Service > Availability Options, I have set my office hours times to 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM. I’m available this whole time for booking.

In Settings > Business Information > Business Hours, I have no availability (they are all a “day off”).

In Settings > Staff > [me] > Edit staff, I have “use business hours” toggled on. I have also selected “Events on Office calendar affect availability.” This option is crucial for me as it helps me avoid double-booking a student appointment against another obligation.

Problems with Bookings and how to solve them

I have many gripes with MS Bookings. It’s definitely not a perfect system but I’ve managed to find workarounds for most of my issues.

Only one continuous window of time per day

I’m usually not available for just one single contiguous chunk of time in the day, but Bookings makes me pretend that I am.

The only way I know of to get around this is to sync Bookings with your personal calendar, and make sure that there are other events that block out the times you don’t actually want to offer.

For example, say I want to let my graduate students schedule 15-minute appointments with me during my baby’s naptimes, so from around 10–11 and from 3–4. Here’s what I do:

  1. I keep all the settings I list above. Most importantly, I have “Use the default scheduling policy” toggled off, and I have “Events on Office calendar affect availability” on.
  2. In Settings > Service > Availability Options, I set the service to be available 10–4. But I don’t actually want anyone to book me from 11–3, so…
  3. I add an event on my personal calendar that lasts from 11–3 so that my calendar will see this time as having a conflict and not allow students to book it.

Is it hacky? Yes. But it does work.

Should Bookings just make it so you can set more than one continuous timespan of availability in a day? Also yes.

Only one location per event

I know, it’s 2021 and we need to be able to offer virtual and in-person appointments in the same place. Oftentimes it makes no difference to me whether we’re online or in person and I’d like to let the student choose.

Unfortunately the only way I’ve found to make this work is to have a separate service for online and in-person. So I have virtual office hours as one service type and in-person as another service type.

Only sync with one calendar

I don’t like putting personal stuff on my Outlook calendar—I use iCloud calendars for that stuff (separate iCloud calendars, for separate types of things!) and I want to keep it that way. But I do want personal events to block out my availability in Bookings. So I hackily created a separate non-work Outlook account, set up a Zapier function to copy all events from all my iCloud calendars into this one new sock-puppet Outlook account, and then set up that puppet account as my “personal” calendar within my work Outlook account. Yes, this is extremely circuitous and it’s frightening that I went to all this trouble.

Ugly, user-unfriendly URL

Bookings automatically generates a URL for your booking page, and it’s horrible:

https://outlook.office365.com/owa/calendar/some-other-junk-that-no-one-can-remember-with-@-symbols-and-everything-like-what???-eww

I pay for my own domain name (as you can see here), so I set up a subpage of this website /office-hours to redirect to my actual Bookings URL. Then I just tell my students to go to meganlavengood.com/office-hours, a URL that a human being can actually retain.

Up next: Microsoft Teams

In another post, I’ll similarly document how I wrangled Teams into being a replacement for Blackboard for my graduate seminar that I conducted online synchronously. It’s the same genre of post—I did the right thing by moving to the University-endorsed Microsoft software instead of the infinitely-easier-to-use Slack, sort of hated it, but will probably keep using it because the school supports it. Stay tuned.

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