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Managing Conference Rooms and Shared Calendars with Outlook 365

For many years, we struggled with getting our shared calendars and meeting rooms to work like we wanted them to in the Outlook 365 environment.  Recently, we came up with a solution that we like and I’m documenting it here for two reasons: (1) to share the information with others, and (2) as a repository for the Byzantine steps needed to accomplish the goals of our calendaring solution, which are:

  • We wanted a centralized “Shared Calendar” where all of our employees could place information about when they will be out of the office, travelling, or having a significant (client) meeting.
  • While we wanted this shared calendar, we did not want people to have to enter information twice (once on their personal calendar, the again on the shared calendar).
  • We wanted to be able to quickly see the status of conference rooms from a calendar view (not within the scheduling tool).

The first step was to set up a “SharedCalendar” that we could use to reflect what we wanted the other members of our team to see.  With this in place (and using an initialing system for the subject lines of the meetings), we can get a quick look at what is happening across our company.  Of course, you could do something for a specific team as well (e.g. “DevCalendar”).  The result of looking at this calendar is:

Unfortunately, actually achieving this requires much more than just setting up a room for SharedCalendar.  Here come the steps…

In the Microsoft 365 Admin Center (“M3AC”), click “••• Show all” at the main menu:

This will reveal an option for Resources, that looks like:

Under here, add a resource for whatever you’d like to call your shared calendar, and assign it the Resource type of “Room”.

Now, whenever you want to include anything on the SharedCalendar, you just invite the SharedCalendar to that meeting.  Unfortunately, there are problems with this:

By default, rooms do not let you “double book” them.  In this case, our “room” is just a virtual shared calendar, so we want to be able to double book it.  This requires a PowerShell command:

Set-CalendarProcessing -Identity sharedcalendar@christopherai.com -AllowConflicts $True

If you need help with PowerShell, please see https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powershell/

So, now, multiple people can book meetings on the SharedCalendar, but when you look at the SharedCalendar in Outlook, it will only show free/busy information.  Next step is to show the details in the calendar view.  To accomplish this, you will need to name yourself as an owner of the mailbox associated with this resource.  First, select the resource in the “Rooms & equipment” list of M3AC, then choose “Edit Exchange Settings.”

Once in there, you will need to select “mailbox delegation” then add yourself to the “Full Access” permission:

Now, off to the next step of showing more information, log into your Outlook 365 account online and click on the avatar area on the top right to reveal a menu:

Under this window, select “Open another mailbox”… and open the SharedCalendar item mailbox.

If all permissions are set up correctly, it will open and you can then go select the “cog” icon on the top right, which will show the simple settings view.  At the bottom, click “View all Outlook settings”.

In the “all Outlook settings” view, select Calendar | Shared Calendars…which should look like this:

In the top section “Share a calendar” select Calendar from the drop-down.  Change the default setting for “People in my organization” from “Can view when I’m busy” to either “Can view titles and locations” or “Can view all details” depending on how much you’d like to share.  Of course if you are doing this at team level, you don’t have to use “People in my organization”; you could simply choose a team, or team members individually.

Unfortunately, we are not through yet, because when accepting a calendar invite, the Room resource modifies the subject by deleting it and replacing it with the organizer name.  This requires another PowerShell command to resolve:

Set-CalendarProcessing -Identity sharedcalendar@christopherai.com -DeleteSubject $False -AddOrganizerToSubject $False

This gets us there, finally.  For the meeting rooms, you’ll need to go through the same exercise, creating them (but skipping the step for allowing conflicts). Go through the visibility exercise by opening their mailboxes, and prevent them from deleting the subject and adding the organizer to it via PowerShell.

For our company we named the physical meeting rooms starting with an “@” symbol (e.g. “@ConferenceRoom”). 

So, by simply who I invite I can have multiple outcomes:

• Inviting SharedCalendar, puts the meeting on my personal calendar and the SharedCalendar.

• Inviting @ConferenceRoom, attempts to book the meeting in the ConferenceRoom, but will fail if it is in use.

• Inviting both SharedCalendar and @ConferenceRoom, books the room and also puts it on the SharedCalendar for others to be aware of.

We have been using this system for several months now.  With it, I can see several views:  My calendar mixed with the shared calendar:

And a quick look at all the conference rooms:

You will note that on many of these, you see the organizer in the subject line. That’s just an artifact of me not running the PowerShell script to prevent that prior to the items being created.

Hopefully this article is helpful to someone.  It will certainly help me (I created it because I added a new conference room yesterday and had to re-learn all the steps) if our environment changes again.  If you use these steps and run into trouble, please let me know so that I can improve how they are communicated.

Book Review: FALL OUT by M. N. Grenside

Book Review: FALL OUT by M. N. Grenside

When your brother-in-law announces he has written a novel, your initial reaction of “Isn’t that cute?” is probably warranted. It’s certainly how I felt when my brother-in-law started talking about it several years ago. 

I am not a literary critic. But I’m an avid reader and probably complete over 25 novels in any given year. My brother-in-law’s first novel, FALL OUT, is as promising of a first novel that I’ve ever read. The blend of his knowledge of the movie business combined with historical and cultural research results in a global and historical tale of murder, deception, and intrigue. 

The characters are real; they are interesting and flawed. And the expanse of the book is compelling. If I have anything negative, it’s the sheer volume of characters. I needed the notes at the beginning of the book on more than one occasion to keep up with Mark’s great ambition in this book. 

I saw that Piers Morgan commented it to be a blend of “The DaVinci Code and Get Shorty.” I’d add a couple of more including Robert Altman’s The Player and Robert Ludlum’s Pillars of the Earth, where ancient architecture comes alive for the reader. In the same way, FALL OUT draws you into a world few of us know, but all of us are influenced by. 

This debut novel doesn’t let its themes of Hollywood define its story. The characters and plot arc do that. But it makes you feel as if you are “on the inside” of the movie establishment, from Los Angeles to Cannes, and all the aspects of that complicated business (financing, stardom, reputation, even stunts) that can lead to success or failure in the business so many of us see as a casual indulgence. 

In writing this review in hopes that you, too, will take the leap of faith and take on a new author. I haven’t spoken with Mark (M. N. Grenside) prior to posting this review. As it’s positive, I’m sure he will be pleased, ha. But I want you to know that it’s sincere and a genuine reflection of my great admiration for what he has accomplished. 

I hope you will take the opportunity to order on Amazon and enjoy this ride for yourself. Please let me know if you agree that it’s a great read. And please join me in never doubting someone just because they were naive enough to marry into your family. 

Congratulations Mark. Job well done. I’m looking forward to your next book: THE BASTION, promised to be out next year. And I’ve heard there may be a movie in the works for this one. Not trying to be nepotistic, but I think I’d make a great Louis McConnell for the film.  When people read the book, they’ll know that isn’t exactly a self compliment!

Why I Believe in New Urbanism

Why I Believe in New Urbanism

Over the past several years, I have read extensively regarding the concept of “New Urbanism” – an over thirty-year old approach to rethinking how we live, work, and play.  Simply put, up until the 1950s we built communities where people could easily walk to needed destinations (the store, the theatre, school) right out their front door.  Following that, a trend towards sub-urbanism emerged, where people sought lower housing prices by moving out of town into newly developing communities. 

Eventually, enough people move into these sub-urban communities that various retail stores begin to emerge (sometimes as a part of a thoughtful plan, sometimes not). These often evolve into “power centers,” which I’m sure you’ve seen: a grocery store and drug store combination, some national chains like Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Taco Bell. Surely there will be a Michaels, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot nearby. Maybe an IHOP for the weekend family pancake stuff-yourself-a-thon.  

Regardless, there will be one inescapable feature: asphalt, and lots of it.  You will find yourself driving to one destination (“Best Buy”) to pick up a new case for your iPhone, then reenter your car to drive less than a mile to fight the parking lot struggle again…this time for a brief stop into a trendy sports store (“REI”) to get some new hiking shoes.  You’ll need them, but not for scenic walks. Rather, for regular treks across pavement as you drive between unremarkably designed storefronts every weekend. 

These power centers differ little from town to town and have homogenized our lives into a shared experience that many find unsatisfying.  Enter the concept of “New Urbanism.” Like any transformational idea, New Urbanism attracts cult-like apostles, rabid naysayers, and about everything in between.  

Given the limits of space in this article, I cannot begin to address all of the positive aspects and negative criticisms of the New Urbanism movement.  Some good starting points on that are in the book, “Community by Design” by Hall & Porterfield and many resources at the Congress for New Urbanism website (www.cnu.org). 

But for me, creating town centers with parking on the periphery, walkable streets, and mixed-use commercial centers can accomplish many admirable goals:  

  • It invites the inclusion of green spaces and gathering places in the center of town.  
  • It prioritizes interesting architecture that gives a community its own sense of being.  
  • It “feeds itself” as retail and commercial spaces co-mingle with residential spaces, providing a ready consumer market.  
  • It promotes smaller, locally-owned businesses that become an integral part of emerging, dynamic communities. 
  • It increases market values (especially compared to traditional development) and maintains valuations over time. 

Recently, I observed the purchase of an older commercial complex with the announcement, “Dollar General and Sally Beauty to Anchor New Commercial Development.” I am not trying to belittle either of those businesses, but the mental picture of what this development would look like was crystal clear long before opening the article. I think we can do better with just a little extra effort and that is core to my belief in New Urbanism.  It is also the mission of our company, Premium Property Trust, as we find ways to use good design and New Urbanism principles to positively affect the lives of communities. 

INVEST IN THE BEST – 5 REASONS WHY “GOOD DESIGN IS GOOD BUSINESS”

INVEST IN THE BEST – 5 REASONS WHY “GOOD DESIGN IS GOOD BUSINESS”

While not unique to architecture (and often credited to IBM’s Thomas Watson), the phrase “Good Design is Good Business” is relevant enough to our market that the American Institute of Architects adopted it as their trademark slogan. McKinsey & Company identified the business value of design in 2018 and released their “McKinsey Design Index (MDI)” to describe the impact of financial performance on firms with excellence in design.  Companies with top-quartile MDI scores outperformed their industry benchmarks by as much as two to one. 

The McKinsey study focused on over 300 companies across multiple countries and industries. But what about our business – commercial real estate – reflects the importance and impact of design on long term business value? 

Lower Maintenance Costs.With good architectural design, we emphasize the use of sustainable, lasting materials. Over time, these materials require significantly less upkeep than their cheaper, commercial-grade counterparts. Also, our strategy for applying good design to “premium” properties means that our target audience is a tenant community more likely to take care of the properties they select. 

More Reliable TenantsSpeaking of tenants, good design in the premium market attracts tenants that have deeper financial resources than their peers. While not 100% foolproof, our history has shown that these tenants can survive financial downturns more effectively than their less capitalized peers. UBS reports that since the last recession, net worth is down for all but the top 10% of earners, and in the past decade the number of billionaires in the United States has more than doubled. These tenants can afford to continue making lease payments long after their more leveraged competitors cannot. 

Market BuzzGood design actually helps find those reliable tenants in the first place. When a premium property comes to market, communities and local media take notice and assist in informing the public. Media groups report on the positive news that a new development is emerging, reiterate the innovative design, and applaud the impact on the community. Good design engenders positive market buzz and its integration with growing communities and environment sustainability. This market impact improves the ability to reach new tenants who seek premium spaces. 

Better Long-Term Property ValueAny real estate proforma must consider an ongoing cash flow statement. But real estate also provides for an ongoing “real” asset that may appreciate over time. Of course, real estate at the higher (premium) end of the market is more likely to increase in value over a long period. This increase in value produces additional return for investors, as that property either sees a favorable refinancing, increased rent rates, or a high sale price. In any case, a premium property is much more likely to outperform its status quo peers over the course of its lifetime. 

Impact to CommunityAn overlooked aspect of real estate is its potential impact on community. Famed Italian architect Renzo Piano summarized this impact by stating, “You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music; but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.” With good design, we can have the opposite – positive – effect. Our developments can improve the walkability of neighborhoods, add green space, and integrate with the surrounding landscapes to create a positive, visceral connection with the people nearby. Premium properties attract valuable businesses and add beauty as well as prosperity to surrounding communities. 

We believe in Good Design. We believe it provides a powerful way to improve the environments where we work, live, and play. We believe it responsibly integrates with the natural environment and builds a lasting legacy for future generations. And we believe it provides a good foundation for thriving real estate investments. It’s Good Business, through and through. 

KC Conway Friday Economist Forecast

KC Conway Friday Economist Forecast

If you have time, you may want to sign up with the public link for KC Conway’s Friday Economist Forecast. KC Conway is a top real estate economist and very familiar with the markets in which Premium Property Trust operates. The update is free and will be live-streamed on YouTube. You should sign up at least five minutes early as it will start promptly at 3:30 pm EST (2:30 pm CST).

https://www.youtube.com/user/CCIMInstitute/live