That is, if Meeting Attendees Cooperate…
Research commissioned by Microsoft says that your brain needs breaks when working over sustained periods and points to back-to-back video meetings as a problem. The article goes on to point to new calendar settings in Outlook (Windows and OWA for now, the other platforms are coming) to help users create breaks when they schedule meetings. The idea is that these breaks give users the opportunity to decompress a little before plunging into the maelstrom of their next meeting. It’s a nice idea, but one that can only work if everyone attending meetings cooperates to begin and end meetings on time, which is something that human beings fail to do.
Making Outlook Shorten Meetings
Outlook has been able to suggest shortened meeting durations for two years (here’s an article by MVP Brian Reid from 2019), with the idea being that people could gain some time back in their day by scheduling 30-minute meetings for 25 minutes and hour-long gatherings for 50 minutes (or whatever you choose). What’s different now is:
- An organization-wide default setting is available to complement the client-side settings. The change is described in message center notification MC251866 published on 21 April and Microsoft 365 roadmap item 72215.
- People can choose to shorten meetings at the start or end of a period by starting late or ending early.
- The organization defaults or user-selected settings apply to the full range of Outlook clients for Microsoft 365 (after Microsoft upgrades the software). Perpetual clients like Outlook 2019 don’t respect the settings.
For instance, I used version 2104 of Outlook for Windows (the option should be in version 2102 or later of Microsoft 365 apps for enterprise) to choose my preferred options (Figure 1).
On the basis that people always turn up late to my meetings, I choose to create a time barrier to my next meeting by ending early. The corporate culture in your organization might be different, but I hazard a guess that most meetings can focus on finishing by a defined meeting end time where they might struggle to begin on time. Of course, the period allotted to a meeting and the actual time consumed by the meeting can be two very different values. The behavior of people in a meeting might be affected by a shortened time, but when business or personal needs dictate, people will continue until they achieve the purpose of the meeting.
The periods available to shorten meetings of less than one hour are 5, 8, and 10 minutes, while for meetings of one hour or longer they are 5, 10, and 15 minutes. As we’ll see, more granularity is available when setting organization defaults with PowerShell. Figure 2 shows how to configure the event shortening settings in OWA. It’s interesting that Outlook desktop refers to meetings and appointments while OWA refers to generic “events.”
Shortening a Meeting
My calendar settings call for a default meeting duration of 30 minutes. After selecting my event shortening options, new meetings start off with a 25-minute duration set (Figure 3). If the default meeting duration is an hour or longer, Outlook shortens it by 10 minutes.
The new setting does not affect any meeting already in the calendar. And of course, because the owner has full control over an event, I can select other durations for the meeting as I like. The shortening feature is an advisory guide rather than a mandatory restriction.
When scheduling a meeting with OWA, users might see a MailTip saying: “Your organization shortens events by default.” This only applies when the user has not configured event shortening and an organization policy is active (see below). Microsoft says that the same MailTip will be visible in other Outlook clients in the future.
Shortening Teams Meetings
Given the multitude of Teams meetings occurring today, effective event shortening must apply to these events. Neither Teams calendar app nor the Teams channel calendar app respect organization-wide or personal event shortening settings at present. Events created by Outlook synchronize with the Teams calendar app, so Teams meetings created through Outlook will pick up the shortened times. According to Microsoft, an update is coming for the Teams calendar app to respect the shortening settings.
Configuring Shortening Events Settings with PowerShell
While users can decide on their personal event shortening settings and set these values through Outlook or OWA, organizations might want to apply default settings. This is done by updating the Exchange Online organization configuration with PowerShell. It’s critical to understand that once a user selects their own settings, the organization defaults do not apply to them.
Three organization-wide settings are available to control event shortening:
- ShortenEventScopeDefault: Sets whether event shortening is in effect (0 or none) or applies to ending meetings early (1 or EndEarly) or starting later (2 or StartLate). This parameter must be set to 1 or 2 before you can amend the periods.
- DefaultMinutesToReduceShortEventsBy: The number of minutes to shorten events by if they are scheduled for one hour or less. The default is five.
- DefaultMinutesToReduceLongEventsBy: The number of minutes to shorten events by if they are scheduled for over one hour. The default is 10.
To turn on event shortening for the organization using my preferred end early option, we run:
Set-OrganizationConfig -ShortenEventScopeDefault EndEarly
Using Get-OrganizationConfig to examine the settings afterwards shows the current configuration
Get-OrganizationConfig | fl defaultmin*, short* DefaultMinutesToReduceShortEventsBy : 5 DefaultMinutesToReduceLongEventsBy : 10 ShortenEventScopeDefault : EndEarly
Like any organization-wide setting, some time is necessary to allow clients and servers to pick up new values (it can take up to 24 hours for the setting to reach all the mailbox servers used by a tenant). For now, there’s no way for administrators to use PowerShell to update settings for individual mailboxes as Microsoft hasn’t upgraded the Set-MailboxCalendarConfiguration cmdlet.