Free Tools for Scheduling Your Next Meeting

February 3, 2015 at 4:55 PM by Elise Keith in meeting technology, tips & techniques

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You're in charge of arranging a meeting that includes people from different companies in different time zones. Thanks to the ready availability of online meeting services, you no longer need to worry about travel times or budgets - you simply have to find a time to meet and send out invitations.

That's the good news: meeting online makes it easier than ever to meet with people spread across the globe.

Still, that's easier said than done. When you meet with the people in your company, you simply check their shared calendar to find an open slot and send out the invitation. That won't work this time because you have no idea what the other attendees already have on their schedule.

The challenge: meeting with people outside of your corporate network and local timezone increases the complexity of scheduling.

Related: Free tools for organizing meeting agendas and taking notes

So it begins - the long exchange of email as you try to find a mutually agreeable meeting time. You need a time that everyone has free with a little bit of padding just in case the conversation goes long that isn't during anyone's lunch, not too early, not too late, not on a holiday (accounting for the different holidays for each country and religion involved in the call). The more people involved, the longer this takes.

In our recent webinar on holding online committee meetings, Mary McCrae talked about the challenges of scheduling a meeting between people spread across different time zones.

This problem has always been part of working with national and international association committees, and she recommended tools to help. Take a look at the services profiled below and see if there's one that will help you schedule your next meeting.

Use the online meeting scheduler built in to Lucid Meetings

Lucid Meetings includes a built-in online meeting scheduler that allows people invited to your meeting to log in and select their preferred meeting dates and times. They can also enter any comments about their chosen dates/times.

Meeting Availability Poll

Use a time zone meeting planner

TimeandDate.com provides lots of useful tools - including a time zone meeting planner - for finding the best (or worst) times to meet for people in different time zones.

TIMEANDDATE.COM WORLD CLOCK MEETING PLANNER

Use the World Clock Meeting Planner as to figure out what time to propose for a meeting.

How it works:

Enter the time zones for each meeting participant and a meeting date, then click "Show timetable". You'll see a handy list of possible meeting times for each selected city, color coded to easily distinguish between regular working hours and especially bad times (like the middle of the night). Look for times showing green across the board before suggesting a meeting time.

World Clock Meeting Scheduler Screenshot

TIMEANDDATE.COM HOLIDAYS AND OBSERVANCES AROUND THE WORLD

Those who are especially considerate may also wish to review the list of Holidays and Observances around the World.

How it works:

If you want to schedule a meeting in the next 3 weeks, scroll past the list of country names at the top to see a listing of holidays by day and the countries that observe them. You can click on the country name next to each holiday to learn how it's observed - including whether this is a public holiday during which many businesses close.

For meeting dates farther in the future, you can select a country to see the full list of holidays celebrated each year.

TimeandDate Holidays Screenshot
 
 

The Time Now International Meeting Planner

Similar to above, the TheTimeNow.com's Meeting Planner tool helps figure out the best times for meetings during business hours in each participant's time zone.

How it works:

Enter the city for each meeting participant, then click "Submit". You'll then see a list of the best meeting times for each city. Look for times showing green across the board before suggesting a meeting time.

time-zone-meeting-planner.png

Scheduling Tools

Once you've found some times to propose, these meeting schedulers will shortcut the need for lots of email to select the final time. They all work on the same basic premise: you provide some suggested times for the meeting then send a link by email to all participants. They respond with the best meeting times for them. Based on the responses, you set the meeting time.

Each service has a free version.

DOODLE

Doodle has also been around awhile and includes features in their scheduling tool that allow you to build simple online polls. Setting up a Doodle scheduling request is a simple 4-step process which doesn't require you to enter an email address.

How it works:

Doodle works pretty much like Meeting Wizard: you specify some possible meeting times and your attendees mark those that work for them.

Doodle Screenshot

With Doodle, you don't need to enter an email address to setup the most basic scheduling requests, because Doodle supplies a survey link you can send using your regular email client. That said, there are BIG ads displayed on every page of the free version, which may be a turn-off for some of your guests.

Related: How to select the right online meeting platform for any meeting

SCHEDULEONCE

ScheduleOnce focuses more on one-on-one scheduling, but also includes a group meeting scheduler in its free version. My favorite of the scheduling tools, we use ScheduleOnce ourselves when scheduling demos or consulting appointments.

How it Works:

Where Doodle and Meeting Wizard use a survey approach to finding the best meeting time, SheduleOnce works by comparing all participants' availability. To schedule a meeting with a group, you select the day (or possible days) for the meeting and indicate a range of times when you're available. You then send a link to other participants, who highlight their availability on those days. Once everyone replies, the times during which everyone can meet are highlighted and the meeting scheduled.

ScheduleOnce Screenshot

Asking people to indicate when they're available rather than pick from a limited set of pre-defined times can save some rounds on those occasions when none of the originally selected times work. The free version is ad supported, although the ads shown are nowhere near as intrusive as those shown on Doodle's free scheduling page.

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