How to Configure and Use Outlook People Favorites

Filtered Email Views for Your Most Important Contacts

Over the years, Microsoft has made many attempts to help people access Inbox contents more intelligently, mostly by applying views to isolate and highlight important messages. The Clutter feature appeared in 2014 only to be replaced by the Focused Inbox in 2016. Now we have Outlook People Favorites.

Favorites have been around for years. Folder favorites give fast access to the most important parts of a user’s mailbox while favorite categories allow users to find messages tagged in particular categories. Outlook does this by creating a view within the mailbox to find all messages in the selected category. People favorites are like categories in that when you add someone (an email address) as a favorite, Outlook creates a view to find all messages from that person. It’s as simple as that.

Creating and Managing People Favorites

People favorites are designed to give quick and simple access to messages from those who are important to you, like your direct manager or critical customers. To mark someone as a people favorite, use OWA to select a message where they are a recipient or sender and click their email address to expose their people card. In Figure 1, I’ve selected David Los, who works on OWA (seems appropriate). To make David one of my people favorites, I clicked the star beside his name in the people card.

Create a new people favorite from an OWA people card
Figure 1: Create a new people favorite from an OWA people card

You can manage the set of people favorites through OWA’s People section. People and Groups are managed together (Figure 2). Favorite categories are managed through OWA options. To remove someone from the set of people favorites, deselect the star opposite their name.

Managing the set of people and group favorites in OWA
Figure 2: Managing the set of people and group favorites in OWA

Behind the scenes, Exchange Online creates a folder in the non-IPM section of the mailbox to hold pointers to items relating to the favorite. The folder is stored under the FavoritePersonas root. We can see details of the folders by running these PowerShell commands:

$Folders = Get-ExoMailboxFolderStatistics -id mailboxi-id -FolderScope nonipm -IncludeOldestAndNewestItems | Select Name, Itemsinfolder, NewestItemReceivedDate, FolderPath
$Folders | ?{$_.FolderPath -Like "*FavoritePersonas*"}|  sort  {$_.NewestItemReceivedDate -as [datetime]} -desc | Format-Table ItemsInFolder, Name

ItemsInFolder Name                                                   NewestItemReceivedDate
------------- ----                                                   ----------------------
          209 James Redmond_b4b30d32-ba9a-4d9b-ad76-7bdb3b6b6c51     09/12/2019 15:20
          222 Thomas Bowers_6701c170-5c66-4ded-ac00-5e083d2ab648     03/12/2019 14:33
           37 Mary-Jo Smith_589ac9ce-da38-45e2-b2b4-24950fb1c270     05/12/2019 09:55
           59 Brad Jones_9607102f-465a-48d9-846b-a3dd7cb9cdb8        01/11/2019 11:00
           40 David Los_078e789e-fa0a-4e98-bb83-ca81ff9a54ca         07/11/2019 23:15
            0 Steven Phillips_9a81d5c0-055e-400e-a0cb-9b43e21c93e7

The items in the persona folders are not updated in real-time. Instead, a background mailbox assistant processes the mailbox to find matching items and creates items for display when the favorite is accessed. The items in the favorite folder might therefore be a little behind. The folder listed above with zero items is just added and hasn’t yet been processed by the assistant.

Using People Favorites

People favorites show up in the set of resources available to OWA users, just like favorite folders and categories. In Figure 3, you can see that my favorites include some categories, groups, and people. Because Exchange Online generates views for favorites, we see unread counts for groups and people where unread messages exist in the mailbox. Selecting a people favorite displays the messages from that person inside the mailbox.

Viewing email for a people favorite in OWA
Figure 3: Viewing email for a people favorite in OWA

Mobile People Favorites

OWA boasts the most complete implementation but the favorites also appear in Outlook mobile. Figure 4 shows how people favorites appear in Outlook for iOS. You can also create new people favorites in Outlook mobile, but although the favorite is created I have found that Exchange Online sometimes doesn’t generate the view, so when you select the favorite created in Outlook mobile, you see no messages.

People favorites in Outlook for iOS
Figure 4: People favorites in Outlook for iOS

Outlook mobile clients don’t use the hidden mailbox folders to reveal items for about people favorites. Instead, these clients search the mailbox and synchronize items on an on-demand basis, an implementation which is more in line with the synchronization model used to update folders for other Outlook mobile resources.

No People Favorites for Outlook Desktop

Outlook desktop doesn’t support people favorites. This isn’t surprising. The Outlook desktop UI is notoriously difficult to change, which is why features that need UI updates invariably appear in OWA and Outlook mobile first.

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9 Replies to “How to Configure and Use Outlook People Favorites”

      1. Interesting. The first time I looked at it today – just before 10pm your time – the screenshot was still showing the address. So if it was caching, it wasn’t on my machine. But yes, it’s fixed now. David is safe!

  1. Is there a limited number of Favorite contacts that can be added as on my O365 running on android I can’t add mire than 3 no matter what I tried.

    1. Seems like a UI constraint which might be dependent on the device. I don’t use Android, so I can’t comment further.

  2. When I add my boss to favorites so I can easily see all his emails with one click, it will not show any emails from within the past 20 days. In other words, today is Dec. 2, and the last email it shows when I click on favorites is from Nov. 12. I have received dozens of emails from him since then and they all appear in my inbox, just not when I click on favorites. I have removed him from favorites and then added him back numerous times but the situation remains. Any idea as to what could cause this?

    1. I believe this is an Outlook view that is generated automatically on the back end. I checked my favorites today and they all look OK in terms of displaying the messages I’d expect. If the situation persists, you should log a support call with Microsoft.

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