Update Sep 2013: Microsoft has announced this feature is being discontinued in SharePoint 2013 (it will still be available but not installed by default and hidden from the user interview). See Related Post for details
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Note: This post is relevant to both SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010.
One of the features that SharePoint has had for a while now is the Meeting Workspace site template. It’s a template to help co-ordinate content and activities relating to meetings. Used well, it can be a great time-saver and/or help improve the management of and outcomes from meetings. But it does have its gotchas and isn’t suitable for all types of meetings. This post is an overview of when and how to use SharePoint for managing meetings, including Outlook integration.
There are two methods for using SharePoint to manage meetings:
|Method:||Best suited for:|
|Frequent and/or informal meetings with few documents or where the same content is reviewed/updated from meeting to meeting..
|A special site template. For meetings that have a lot of unique content per meeting and/or take a lot of organising. Can be a single instance or a recurring series of meetings.
Team Site with a Calendar and Document Library
The most basic way of using SharePoint to organise meetings: within a team site. It could be a simple document library (e.g. called Meeting Docs) within a general team site, or it could be a dedicated sub-site such as the image above, including a calendar and a library per type of meeting. Add a column to the document library called ‘Meeting Date’ and when you upload documents, you can enter the meeting date for future reference. You an also use it to create views based on meeting date if you want to make it easy for people to locate what documents relate to a given meeting.
The calendar is really an optional nice-to-have. Most people would create the meeting invite within their mailbox and send it out to all attendees. It’s then automatically added to individual calendars for everyone who accepts the meeting invite. Creating the appointment in a calendar on the SharePoint site just offers another visual prompt, outside a person’s mailbox. But it is a separate manual process (unless you give the site a mailbox and do some jiggery-pokery to make the calendar list an attendee…)
The Meeting Workspace is a special site template designed specifically for meetings. There are 5 variations of the template:
- Basic Meeting Workspace
- Blank Meeting Workspace
- Decision Meeting Workspace
- Social Meeting Workspace
- Multipage Meeting Workspace
The Basic Meeting Workspace contains a single page (per meeting) and 4 web parts (and corresponding lists or libraries): Objectives, Attendees, Agenda and Document Library. The Blank Meeting Workspace contains a single page and nothing – the clue is in the title. The Decision Meeting Workspace is like the Basic one but with extras: Objectives, Decisions and Tasks. The Social Meeting Workspace contains multiple pages. The home page contains Attendees, Directions, and Things to Bring plus a picture. There is a page for discussions (it contains a Discussion Board) and a page for Photos (Picture library) ‘cos meetings aren’t social without photos The Multipage Meeting Workspace lets you create multiple pages for the meeting and starts with 3 to begin. The home page contains Objectives, Attendees and Agenda. The other two are blank and ready to use (and rename from Page 1 and Page 2).
Regardless of the template you pick, a meeting workspace can be recurring – contains multiple meetings within the single workspace; or individual – one workspace per meeting.
Recurring Meeting Workspace
You can create a meeting workspace with a recurring schedule. A single site is created but with special code behind it to generate an instance of the site per meeting date, each one listed in the sidebar on the left of the page. The recurrences can either be created automatically using a recurrence schedule or manually added to the series. But you can not mix and match. It is either a set schedule or a manual series.
When you create the meeting, you specify a recurrence schedule just as you would with a normal meeting. You can create the meeting from within a calendar list in SharePoint or an Outlook calendar. But you must specify to create a meeting workspace. The image above shows the option within SharePoint and a recurrence schedule for the meeting. Outlook integration is discussed later in this post. You can make changes to an individual item within a recurring series but it must be done within the appointment item. Additions must be added within the series (i.e. the recurrence schedule or item series). Do not delete a recurrence unless you are absolutely certain it will no longer be required. It is fiendishly difficult to get it inserted back into the series.
Manual recurrences are created by simply adding a meeting to an existing meeting workspace instead of creating a new one. You can only add meetings to a meeting workspace that does NOT have an automatic recurrence schedule. Use this approach if your recurrence schedule is unpredictable.
Individual Meeting Workspace
An individual meeting workspace is a single site for a single meeting. Each time you create a new event in the Calendar list (or within an Outlook calendar), you choose to create a new meeting workspace site. With an individual meeting workspace, you do not get a sidebar down the left site of the page unless you select the Multiple Pages template.
Multipage Meeting Workspace
The Multiple Pages template enables you to have multiple different pages within a single meeting (the Social Meeting Workspace is also a multipage site). In the past I have often used this to provide a dedicated page for meeting organisers, where they can place their contacts, to-do lists and all the stuff that needs to happen for the meeting to take place but is of no interest to the attendees. The content can be audience-targeted so that only the organisers can see it.
In SharePoint 2007, pages were displayed as sub-tabs along the top of the page. They are now listed as navigation in the sidebar (same place as where recurring meetings are listed). This is much more consistent compared to other site templates. But it has its flaws. The ‘Pages’ link takes you to a backstage area that doesn’t actually display any pages.
The image above shows what happens when you click on Pages. You don’t see pages, you get to view All Site Content. That area can be confusing for users at the best of times. If you’re going to call it Pages it would be helpful if it at least displayed a list of the pages… or better still, change it to Home and point it to the default home page. But you can’t modify the link. Add it to the list of usability goofs Microsoft has made with SharePoint 2010.
As well as creating meeting workspaces within SharePoint, you can also create them within Outlook. This has a number of benefits:
- The site URL is embedded in the Outlook appointment, making it easy for attendees to navigate to the site (and eliminates the ‘I couldn’t find the document…’ excuse)
- Everyone who is added as an attendee is automatically added to the site permissions as a contributor, so that they can upload and edit documents.
And another change has occurred between the 2007 and 2010 versions, this time within Outlook.
In Outlook 2007, when creating a new appointment in your calendar, if you clicked Invite Attendees you see a link within the ribbon (the new menu structure in Office 2007) to create a Meeting Workspace. As shown in the image below:
In Outlook 2010, the Meeting Workspace link is no longer enabled by default. And when it is enabled, it is a tiny icon up in the Quick Launch tray at the top of the page. To display it, you must first click the little arrow at the far right of the Quick Launch tray (both are circled in red in the image below) to open a dialogue box where you can choose what icons appear, including the Meeting Workspace icon.
But other than that, the functionality is the same. When you click the Meeting Workspace icon, a task pane appears on the left where you can configure options to create a Meeting Workspace, including location and template. The location list is populated with the 5 last visited sites. It may be empty the first time you use the feature and you will need to paste in the URL to a site. But after that, it will remember settings. People who are added to the To list will be added to the Members group of the site, with Contribute permissions (can add/edit/delete documents by default). The subject link will be used as the site title. When you click Create, the site is provisioned and link is embedded in the body of the appointment, as shown in the image above.
A couple of tips: Enter the attendee list and subject line in the appointment before you create the meeting workspace. And keep the subject line short or you will end up with a very ugly URL. Gotchas to be aware of – recurring meetings in Outlook that are linked to a SharePoint Meeting Workspace site. I’ve seen a few cases of orphaned meeting workspaces when a recurrence is cancelled in Outlook and then rearranged.
And there you have it. SharePoint can be a very useful tool for organising meetings. But it can also be over-engineered. Only use meeting workspaces when the need justifies them. In many cases, a simple document library is all that is required, with the benefit of metadata to tag and find documents. A simple rule of thumb – think twice about using meeting workspaces for meetings that occur more frequently than quarterly…
Update reminder: This feature is being discontinued in SharePoint 2013