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Exchange Calendars & Meeting Requests

Best Practices
Microsoft Exchange Email and Calendaring applications are widely used in the corporate world as well as in educational and research institutions.  However, they are not immune to software anomalies.  Users of Exchange calendars in particular will under certain circumstances, notice that their calendars do not work well or as expected, or scheduled meetings simply disappear.  The behavior is mostly observed when there is an Outlook "Delegate" assigned to help manage one's Calendar. 
We strive to keep our Email and Calendaring system infrastructure with optimal configuration in order to offer the best level of performance.  Due to the proliferation of many client devices in recent years coupled with the use of multiple computers by one individual, it is equally important that individual good practices are observed when using Email/calendar client applications. 
There is a minimum set of "best practices" that are required and strongly recommended for you to follow in order to improve your overall user experience:

  1. Run the same version level of Microsoft Office Outlook.  Be sure to run Outlook 2007 (or above) with latest service pack levels and updates, if using multiple computers to connect to your Exchange email/calendar system.  This is particular important if you are an Outlook "Delegate" and are managing Calendar/Meeting Requests on behalf of your manager.  In this case, both the Manager and the Delegate must run the same version of Outlook and in all computers that are being used (i.e. Office, laptop, home desktop).  A Delegate cannot and should not use Outlook Web Access (OWA) to process meeting requests for the manager.

  2. Keep the number of Delegates to a minimum.  Microsoft best practices recommend the assignment of only 1 Delegate per mailbox owner.  That is, a delegate with Editor permissions to the mailbox owner or manager.  While the Outlook client will allow the designation of multiple delegates, keeping the number of delegates authorized to update your calendar to a minimum, will prevent multiple people from modifying or taking an action on a calendar item or meeting request at the same time.  If someone needs to see your calendar, instead use only Calendar permissions to grant "read" access to your Calendar folder.  Giving someone "Delegate" rights is mostly used for managing your calendar which is a higher level of access.  To grant someone "read" access to your calendar, see the procedures in here.   

  3. Always Take action on a calendar event - Make a choice.  Always take an action on a Calendar event or invite.  Accept, accept as tentative, or decline each and every meeting request.  Do the same for an update to a meeting request that was previously accepted.
  4. Take action only from your Inbox.  Always take action from your Outlook "Inbox" and never take an action directly from the Calendar itself.  If you accept or decline a meeting by opening the meeting item directly from the Calendar in Outlook, the meeting "request" remains in the Inbox and the meeting item is not processed correctly.  A process called the "sniffer" runs within your Inbox that processes all meeting items and it will process meeting requests that are related to the same meeting in the order in which they arrive in the Inbox.  Likewise, as a Delegate, you must take action within your Inbox if you're accepting/declining a meeting request on behalf your manager.  Once you take an action, allow your changes to propagate across the Email/calendar systems as well as to all email client computers (~15mins). 

  5. Delete meeting requests from your Inbox only if you are sure.  Do not delete a meeting request from the Inbox until you are absolutely sure that the meeting has been processed (accepted/declined).  The following text appears in the InfoBar of the meeting request when the meeting request has been processed:
    "Accepted by username on date, time".  This is particularly true if you assigned a delegate to help manage your calendar.  Likewise, only delete a calendar item once an action has been taken upon it. 

  6. Decide who does what - is it you or me?  Even when only 1 Delegate is assigned, make sure to decide whether the delegate or the mailbox owner (or manager) will receive and process all meeting requests but never both.  If the manager has elected to see copies of the meeting requests and happens to open a meeting request at the same time that the delegate is taking an action upon it, then the response status will not get updated appropriately.  Furthermore, if the manager subsequently deletes the meeting request (from his/her Inbox) thinking that the Delegate has already accepted, the corresponding meeting item will be deleted from the calendar.  A good practice is to allow only the designated Delegate see the meeting invites/requests but not the mailbox owner.  In Outlook, the mailbox owner (or manager) should set to deliver meeting requests and responses to "My delegates only".  That way, the owner will never see them and he or she will not be obligated to take an action upon it and therefore, reducing "accidental" deletion of calendar events.      

  7. Don't delete a meeting request from your laptop if you already accepted it from your desktop.  Always process meeting requests on only one computer.  Laptops are normally running Outlook in Cached Exchange Mode (a local copy of your mailbox is kept for offline use), and if you delete a meeting request from your Inbox in your laptop that has already been processed by another computer, the meeting will disappear off your calendar once the data is synchronized with the servers.  This is the "last action wins" concept.  This is also true with any other computer elsewhere (i.e. home desktop) that you may be using to connect to the servers.  If for whatever reason, the request is still in the Inbox of the other computer(s), go ahead and accept it again.  It won't hurt, but it will if you take the wrong action and delete it.          

  8. Do not use PDAs to accept/decline meeting requests.  Do not use your PDA (i.e. iPhone, Android, etc) to process any meeting requests for yourself or as a delegate.  The software client application running in your PDA has not been thoroughly tested by the vendors and cannot be relied upon to process meeting requests successfully leading to calendar anomalies. 

  9. Minimize the number of open calendars windows.  Do not keep multiple calendar windows opened.  If you are a delegate and have access to multiple user's calendars, open them only as needed and close them right away.  This will help improve the performance at both your client desktop and on the Email/Calendar servers. 

  10. Schedule End dates on recurring meetings.  Always use a definite end date when you schedule a recurring meeting.  When you add a definite end date, you may prevent issues that may occur if you have to update the meeting several times.  If you schedule an end date on meetings, you can create a new meeting if you realize that the meeting has to be frequently modified.  This also reduces calendar activity and simplifies how the application processes it.  

  11. Never forward meeting requests either as meeting Organizer or Attendee.  You as the meeting organizer or attendee, should never forward a meeting requests because the sudden new recipient will not be automatically added to the original "attendee" list.  As the organizer, you must add the new recipient to the meeting attendee list and send "an update" to the original meeting. 

  12. Follow Microsoft Recommend practices - Outlook meeting requests do's and don'ts.  Microsoft has produced a very good article on Essential do's and don'ts for Outlook meeting requests.  This article described what an Outlook user must do to help Calendaring and meeting requests run smoothly and has been assembled based on the most common problems they see amongst its very large customer base.  They can be read and followed in here.
Getting Help
Before putting in a request for help with your Calendar at SLAC please read all of the best practices above and ensure you are already following them. If you are following the best practices and are experiencing problems you can contact your Desktop Support personnel for assistance. They will escalate to Email Infrastructure team as needed.
Final Note
We strongly recommend you read/follow the above even if you have worked with Outlook calendaring for many years. We assembled the list above based on Microsoft articles and our own experiences managing the Email/Calendar infrastructure at SLAC over the years.

  Last Updated: 03/09/2011
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