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Hybrid Working

Hybrid RSVPing is here! Well almost….

Originally chalked for release in late June ’22, the plan was to roll out a more granular RSVP response in Outlook that allowed invitees to indicate how they planned to attend a meeting:

  • Yes, in-person
  • Yes, virtually

So almost 2 years later and this capability is nearly here with the introduction of In-person Meetings and Hybrid RSVPs.

I say nearly, as it’s yet to be released for Apple Mac and mobile users.

There’s also a few shortcomings in it as we’ve discovered…keep reading.


Could Microsoft’s new ‘Hybrid’ RSVP feature in Outlook address the challenges of co-ordinating & facilitating in-person meetings?

It shows promise, but there’s a way to go yet, is my verdict.

This article looks at the benefits and current shortcomings.

What is an Hybrid RSVP?

An RSVP (Respondez Sil Vous Plait) is a request to the recipient of an invitation to confirm whether they plan to attend or not.

Knowing this information allows the organiser to effectively plan a meeting or event, and the resources required to host it.

As many meetings and events can be attended virtually these days, the concept of a Hybrid RSVP (HRSVP) has been introduced so that attendees can indicate how they plan to attend: i.e, In-person or remotely.

In Outlook, the new HRSVP request is triggered by a new In-Person event (IPE) toggle.

With the IPE toggle switched on, invitees can indicate how they plan to attend when they say ‘yes’ to an event.

Why is HRSVP so handy?

Here’s just 4 of the potential benefits of having this new HRSVP feature in Outlook:

1.    It helps avoid the negative impact of commute regret*

I for one have suffered the phenomenon of commute-regret. I turned up to a Teams meeting ‘in person’ thinking it would be a great opportunity to catch up with folk over a biscuit or three, only to realise that most people had opted to join virtually.

According to the urban dictionary, commute regret can go hand-in-hand with a ‘soul crushing’ effect that walking into an empty, ‘ghost town-like’ office has.

The fact is, both sentiments can be detrimental for organisations wishing to encourage their workforce into the office.

In theory, the IPE and HRSVP feature should help avoid such situations. By seeing who is attending in person vs remotely, you could conceivably:

  • Stay at home when it looks like you’ll be a ‘Billy no mates’ if you come into the office.
  • Come into the office to prevent FOMO and connect with your mates.

See point 4 for the end user experience using HRSVP.

*Commute-regret refers to the frustrating experience of commuting to the office only to find oneself alone and performing tasks that could have been accomplished remotely.

2.    It avoids wasting precious resources, time & bacon butties. Probably….

Let’s say you have 20 people in your team and you want to organise a ‘hybrid meeting’. 

With the HRSVP ‘piece of the jigsaw’ in place you have a better chance of knowing who’s going to pitch up in person. The benefits of this are:

  • You can book a meeting room that’s more space-efficient. For example, just 10 seats instead of 21.
  • You won’t waste coffee and bacon butties by over-ordering.
  • If everyone plans to attend remotely (except you), you might as well have a fully remote meeting and save the planet: less fuel, less heating, etc.

There are some gotchas with HRSVP as it stands currently, however:

  • You may have noticed from the above screen shot that invitees can still respond with a nebulous ‘Yes’, and not specify whether they’ll be attending in-person or virtually.
  • As the organiser, you will need to do the maths on who’s going to attend in person, and change up any room reservations and catering orders accordingly to avoid waste.

This leads us onto the next point around avoiding waste of precious office space and meeting rooms.

3.    You’ll be able to optimise office space utilisation??

Whilst there’s the potential for meeting organisers to get a better grip on the numbers of people they need to accommodate ‘in person’ (and make better workspace choices as a result), there’s currently no ‘joined up’ matching of in-person delegate numbers with workspace capacities.

Let’s take the new Microsoft Workspace resource as an example.

Also known as a ‘pooled resource‘, the workspace resource mailbox in Microsoft Exchange is a bookable space type that can be assigned a maximum capacity that’s automatically enforced by Exchange.

So, for example, let’s say you have a meeting space with video facilities called “Collaboration Zone A” that can physically accommodate 10 people.

A manager could invite their team members to the workspace, and with each member that accepts the invitation, a space out of the available pool of 10 is (in theory) automatically subtracted. The spaces ‘left over’ are then available for other people to use.

To date this functionality has struggled to work with any degree of accuracy – especially as attendance might not be ‘physical’.

We hoped that the new HRSVP would fix this, but in our latest tests it looks like the workspace resource mailbox is now not showing capacity at all. We’ll keep an eye on this!

4.    It will be easier to meet in person.

After several years of experiencing the many work-life-balance benefits of hybrid and remote working, employees are looking for a compelling reason to schlep back to the office on a more regular basis.

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special report, the ability to connect with colleagues ‘in-person’ could be that compelling reason.

So let’s say we’re planning a trip into the office next week and want to pick a day where the majority of our colleagues are in the office.

How can we determine the optimum day for physically meeting with co-workers and friends?

The screenshot below shows the UX when using the new In-person event option in Outlook and Suggested times.

As you can see, by toggling on the new ‘In-Person event’ feature, the suggested time box gives a synopsis of who’s available, plus a high level view of who’s in or out of the office.

By clicking into this box, you can see a ‘forecast’ list of all the individuals expected to be in the office.

PS – It’s interesting to note that I couldn’t replicate this experience when I checked it again later – the suggested times seemed to no longer be working when I switched on ‘In-person event’. I keep seeing other ‘funnies’, such as a note that says ‘You are remote’ when my settings showed otherwise.

Anyhow, let’s assume these are temporary glitches….

Whilst this feature (when it’s working) is great, it relies on end users manually configuring their typical work hours and locations using the Outlook ‘Work hours and location’ setting.

For example, specifying remote work on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and in-office attendance on Wednesday and Thursday.

There’s a few issues with this approach:

  • Not everyone will have set their work hours and locations. In fact I noticed that the status of such individuals comes up as ‘Not available’ in the Suggested times window, even when their diary is clear. I found this UX confusing.
  • Schedules can vary, and individuals might not be diligent in updating changes to their usual hybrid work patterns.

In an ideal world, ‘HRSVP – Yes in person’ should also automatically update your location to be ‘Office’ if it’s not already set to this. This way, you’ll show up as available for other ‘in-person’ meetings on the same day.

As far as we can see, it doesn’t do this.

Whilst there may be good reasons not to do this automatically, it would be nice for end users to be given the option to flip their status to ‘in office’ for a date on which they accept a meeting in-person.

Conclusion – IPE and HRSVP are great – but..

Understanding where your workforce is – i.e., working from home, or in the office – is becoming increasingly important for many hybrid organisations:

  • It helps businesses save costs and reduce their environmental impact
  • It helps individuals and teams meet in person, with all the benefits of learning, efficiency, idea generation and wellbeing that offers.
  • It also helps facilities teams optimise office accommodation and save costs

Whilst the IPE and HRSVP are a step in the right direction, there’s still some way to go before enterprises can start managing their office occupancy needs, and users can starting planning their office visits to meet up with colleagues – with any degree of accuracy.

Perhaps AI can start to play a role here. We’ll watch with interest.

If you encounter gotchas when using the new IPE and HRSVP features, we’d love to hear from you!

Find out how our workspace booking systems will help your workforce connect in person