About 5 years ago, I finally gave in and switched to Microsoft Outlook as my main email, calendaring, and contact management system. It was a good decision that has served me well in running my consulting firm and various startups, but I have never wanted the cost of a dedicated exchange server; thus, we haven’t had calendar sharing and the other collaboration features.
Yesterday, after another search to find free or low-cost options for sharing Outlook calendars, I discovered that with the help of Google, we can achieve our basic goal of viewing the calendars of other team members and even make changes that get automatically synced back to our personal Outlook calendars.
The process is reasonably straight-forward and, in the end, you have access to colleagues’ schedules via Google calendars. This certainly is not ideal but it is free, it is easy, and can work for lots of small businesses or anyone else (such as spouses) that want to enable calendar sharing.
To set this up, you need to:
- Install Google Sync for Outlook
- Setup Google Calendar if you don’t already have it
- Configure sharing permissions on your Google Calendar
We use Google Apps for our mail so it was easy configuring the calendars. The only hiccup was that if you want to share with people outside your domain or company, you need to change global sharing settings in the Google Apps admin section and it takes 30-60 minutes for that to have any effect.
There are lots of other options in the marketplace but we didn’t want to run any local server software and we were looking for a free solution that actually worked reasonably well. In the end, we felt that this was a great approach, offered online access to our calendars whenever we needed them, and provided us with the ability to view and even change shared calendars within our group. It may not work for everyone, but we’re hoping this will work for us.