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03.01.2022 Organisation & processes

Calendar etiquette: how to use a calendar at work

Calendar etiquette: how to use a calendar at work

Curious how you can use your calendar more efficiently at work? With these simple yet effective calendar etiquette tips and best practices, you'll find out how to organize your calendar more effectively.

Your work calendar is just one of many productivity tools. As with any tool, how you use your calendar is probably different from how your teammates use it. People have their preferences, after all.

How to organize your calendar is mostly up to you. But when you work in a team, especially when working remotely, you want to lay out some ground rules. Some basic calendar etiquette ensures you’re all in sync and calendars are used effectively within the business as a whole.

At least, that’s what we did here at JOIN. Because as our (partly remote) team kept growing we noticed something weird.

Some people used their daily calendar as a lengthy to-do list. Others filled them with endless reminders to email colleagues or buy cat food after work. One guy (we won’t publicly shame him, but he knows…) even blocked out entire days in his calendar just to prevent people from inviting him to meetings.

And this didn’t just make it tricky to schedule a team meeting. This ineffective, unorganized calendar use meant we were wasting time as a business. So, we came up with some guidelines to help us all use our calendars more effectively.

How to effectively use your calendar at work (and how not to)

Before creating our list of basic calendar etiquette for the workplace (see further below) we wanted to answer a simple question. When to use a calendar and when not to use it?

We discussed it in the team and came to an interesting conclusion. We’ve always approached calendar usage from the wrong perspective.

Here are the most important points we noted down:

When to use your calendar When not to use your calendar
  • To schedule meetings and other work events with the team
  • To show the team where you’re working from
  • To show the team when you’re not at your desk
  • To show the team when you’re at your desk but preferably unavailable
  • To create your daily to-do list
  • To set yourself personal, non-work related reminders

Think about your calendar and why you have it.

You probably think of phrases like “scheduling my time” or “keeping on top of my work”. You see your calendar as a tool that works for you. But when working in a business, more often than not your calendar is actually there for your colleagues.

It’s for your colleagues to know when you’re available for a meeting. When you’re at your desk in case they want to drop by for a chat. When you’re on annual leave so they know to ask someone else to do that task.

It’s not about what your calendar can do for you, it’s about what your calendar can do for your team.

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5 basic calendar etiquette tips for in the workplace

With that perspective in mind, we created a list of calendar etiquette and scheduling tips. These guidelines focus on how to use your calendar to help your colleagues first, which in turn will help you use your calendar better for you too.

It’s all about using your work calendar to communicate your availability to the rest of your team.

1. Make the calendar publicly available

People can be oddly private and shy when it comes to sharing their calendars with others. But this hinders transparency in the workplace and makes it more difficult for your colleagues to know whether you’re available or not.

Especially when managing a remote team you’ll spend a lot of time checking people’s availability in their online calendar. The more transparent your team’s calendar usage, the easier it is for you to decide whether you should put in that Tuesday afternoon meeting or rather move it to Wednesday.

Here at JOIN, we’ve made all our calendars publicly available for everyone within the team to see. It makes scheduling our time easier and it incorporates how we value transparency as a company.

Note that if for some reason you would need to make an event private, for example when it’s about a confidential matter, you can still manually change this in your event’s settings.

2. Show where you’re working

If you use Google Calendar, as we do, there is a handy feature that allows you to set your location for each day. You can set it to Office, Home, or a custom location of your choosing. You can set a default location (e.g. the office) and change it to another location for specific days.

Screenshot showing how to use a calendar by setting your working location in Google Calendar

This feature is particularly useful when team members are allowed to switch between working in-office or home office. When someone wants to schedule a meeting with you they’ll be notified about your location, so they know whether to book a physical meeting room or take it virtually.

If you have a large office (or maybe even a campus) this setting can be handy as people can check if someone is in the office before walking over to their desk.

Of course, a little walk away from the desk every now and then never hurt anyone. But it’s good to know that there’s an option to avoid it in case you’re feeling lazy…

3. Set your working hours (and respect those of others)

Another useful feature is to set your standard working hours in your calendar. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you work completely random hours, but in general, people are creatures of habit.

Even if it’s just a rough estimate, setting your working hours can give your colleagues some idea of when they should schedule meetings with you.

A good rule of thumb is to think of the earliest you’d normally clock in and the latest you’d normally clock out. If you’re an early bird this could be from 8 am till 5 pm, while for others it might be more from 10 am to 7 pm.

Now, these times should just work as indicators, but it’s important to try and respect them where possible.

Here at JOIN, we follow these three simple guidelines:

  • Avoid scheduling a meeting outside of someone’s working hours.
  • If you do need to schedule a meeting outside of these hours (e.g. when many stakeholders are involved), check in with them first before just putting a meeting in their calendar. It’s the kind thing to do!
  • Respect their decision to decline a meeting if it’s outside of their working hours. We value work-life balance.

Further note that if your company works internationally you need to be mindful of time differences between team members as well. If one person is in Berlin and the other one is in Brazil, there won’t be much overlap between their set working hours.

In a situation like this, it’s important that you sit down with your team to discuss a collaboration format that works best for all of you. Compromises might be necessary, so it’s important to talk about this.

For example, this could mean changing your Wednesday working hours by splitting your standard 8 am to 5 pm into 2 working hour blocks from 8 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 8 pm.

Calendar tip: Use Google Calendar’s World Clock setting to add as many time zones to your calendar as you like. Alternatively, check out Every Time Zone to see many time zones at once.

Screenshot showing how to set different time zones in Google Calendar to help with organizing calendar.

4. Set your OOOs and AFKs

Further communicate through your calendar by adding information about any time you’re out-of-office (OOO) or away from the keyboard (AFK).

No, we don’t mean creating a calendar event when going to the loo. But we do mean blocking out one hour for your lunch break. Or three hours for a dentist appointment (and travelling there and back).

The more time away from your keyboard you can add to your calendar, the easier it is for your colleagues to check your availability.

For moments away from the keyboard but still in the office, we recommend creating an event. For anything happening out of the office and full-day events (like holidays), we recommend the calendar’s out-of-office feature.

Using the out-of-office feature means any meeting invitation you receive will be automatically declined with a custom note letting your colleagues know you’re out of the office.

5. Use focus time wisely

Using your calendar to schedule some focus time for yourself is a great way to effectively organise your time. But it’s important that you communicate this properly to the rest of your team.

In Google Calendar, you can specifically schedule focus time, which is different from scheduling an event. When you schedule focus time it will show a headphones icon next to the title of the entry in your calendar. This shows your colleagues that you’re not in a meeting and that you’re at your desk. You just prefer not to be distracted.

Screenshot showing how to set focus time in Google Calendar as part of proper calendar etiquette

When setting focus time, you can decide to let your calendar automatically decline invitations for events or not.

Here at JOIN, we appreciate that our team members sometimes just need an hour or two to not be disturbed, get in the zone, and bash out some work in time for a deadline. That’s why we really try to respect each other’s focus time as much as possible.

But with focus time, rather than a meeting or out-of-office, your team members know that in case of emergency you are still at your desk and available for firefighting.

Note that you don’t want your colleagues to abuse this feature, either. Remember the guy who blocked out his whole calendar to avoid meetings?

So to prevent this from happening, we follow these two simple steps:

  1. Team meetings trump individual focus time by default
  2. But we actively encourage the individual to challenge this if they believe their time is better spend in focus time

At the end of the day, team members being productive is more important than writing rules in stone.

Extra tips to use your calendar more effectively

The steps outlined above are what we consider our five core rules on how to use calendars effectively in the workplace. They help us communicate more clearly and transparently within our team.

But there’s much more to proper calendar etiquette than just these few points. Although we can’t list them all, here are some more points to bear in mind when using a calendar at work.

  1. Give every entry a clear, short, descriptive title
  2. Be discreet with your titles (e.g. don’t title a meeting “discussing whether to fire Karen”)
  3. Write a short description and, if it’s a meeting, add the meeting agenda
  4. Always add a virtual conferencing link, even when your meeting is planned to happen IRL
  5. Add a location/book a meeting room when appropriate
  6. Invite relevant people (and only relevant people)
  7. Don’t just block out an hour for a meeting by default but try to block out an estimate of the time the meeting will take
  8. When scheduling an urgent meeting (e.g. within an hour from now) consider also messaging people via chat
  9. When not urgent give people the time to reply (don’t follow up too quickly)
  10. Respect that everyone’s time is limited and precious and act accordingly!

And that’s how we approach calendar etiquette here at JOIN. Do you want to learn more about how to use your calendar to plan your time more effectively?

Then check out our calendar management tips to better schedule your time at work.

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