Teams or Zoom?

Both applications do the job of video conferencing well, and they’re not the only ones (e.g. Google Meet, Starleaf, Webex). But what’s the real difference, and when should you use one over the other?

I don’t have the space to do a full examination of all the features here, but I’ll cover off some of the basics in a highly opinionated fashion.

In reality, what determines which one you use is probably more down to 1) the preference of the organiser, 2) whether you’re meeting with just colleagues from your own organisation or with external contributors, or 3) how much everyone involved hates Microsoft/Google/Zoom, than it is about any specific functionality.

Zoom

“I’ll Zoom you” is one of those phrases that, had you said it to most people before March 2020, they probably would not have understood what on earth you were talking about. Now, loaded as much with dread (as in, “FFS not another Zoom meeting…”) as it is with familiarity, Zoom has become one of those brand names that has found its way into the lexicon of our times.

Why it became so popular has I suspect less to do with how well it does what it does (if you’ve spent any time conferencing with other applications you’ll have noticed it’s comparatively pretty poor video and audio quality), as with how easy it is to join a meeting as a participant. With a free account, and a snazzy name worthy of an early 2000’s bank account trying to sell itself as a fun place to store your money, joining a video meeting is a simple as having a laptop and an internet connection. And what a brilliant way to show off your bookshelf! No books? Desert Island! The Golden Gate Bridge!

The early days had some controversy, especially around its pretty poor security including lack of encryption. Some admin features that let your manager know when you weren’t paying attention left a bitter taste in the mouths of some. But, in fairness, they fixed a lot of that, and with the help of Gov UK leading the chorus of ‘we’re all in this together’ (as if they didn’t have a secure video conferencing system already) they’ve well and truly established themselves as the standard, deserved or not, against which others are measured.

Zoom does have some good functionality. Breakout rooms are a great way to split up and manage large meetings into smaller groups, and giving fellow attendees co-host permissions allows you to delegate control of those rooms. Some fairly granular sharing options allows the host to share anything from their full desktop, specific applications, or just the computer audio which can be useful for online exercise classes, where you are demonstrating but not speaking. You can connect more than one camera, so you can switch between speaking in front of the camera, to demonstrating in the room.

As host you can spotlight specific participants when they are speaking. As a participant you can change the view from galley to speaker view which always shows the person speaking. One thing that always annoys me, though, is that every time you exit from a screen share, it reverts automatically to speaker view, which means fiddling with the controls to get it back on gallery which is distracting.

You can do all the standard chat messages, whiteboard, recording, and more, but outside of the meeting itself, it’s not really got much going on. It does also have hosted voice, as does Teams, so you can use it instead of a separate phone system, which would be great to consider if you’re still stuck with an office based phone system.

Verdict

Great for simple conferencing without any additional collaboration. I’d recommend getting the licensed version if you plan on hosting meetings to get better features and unlimited session time. Definitely spend some time looking through the admin settings for your account whether it’s free or not; it’s not the most intuitive navigation of controls by a long shot, but if you can put some time in, you’ll be Zooming with the best of them.

TIP

Before joining a meeting you would rather not be a part of, turn off your camera and change your display name to ‘Connecting to audio…’

Teams

We use Teams almost exclusively for our internal communication, though Zoom has a role to play especially when we’re speaking to partners from other organisations, where there’s a roughly 50/50 split. By far the biggest benefit of Teams as an organisation that uses Office 365 is that you probably already have it, and it’s already connected to almost everything else you do.

This is not an Office 365 puff piece, but I can’t get away from the fact that we use Office 365 all day. Teams is much more than a conferencing tool, and so for that reason, if conferencing is all you need it for then you’re probably better off with Zoom. But, if you use Outlook, SharePoint and other Office apps in your organisation, give it some exploration.

On a basic level, you create your Team, and the Channels underneath each Team. As a way of keeping daily chat targeted it’s great (as long as you pay attention to which channel you’re in). In fact some of the best functionality doesn’t revolve around the video conferencing at all.

But, we’re here to compare it with Zoom, so let’s not get bogged down in all the other impressive stuff it can do, I’ll save that for another post.  

So when would you use Teams for Video Conferencing? If the meetings are internal to your business, then the clear answer is ‘All The Time’. Why not? If you’ve set up your Teams and Channels sensibly, just @mention the channel and start the meeting. Everyone will get notified. Inviting participants in an active meeting is also easy, as members of the channel are already in the list.  

The video and audio quality is much better than Zoom, in my experience. As a technological comparison, that may be unfair to Zoom, who pay Amazon for their bandwidth and computing. But we’re not talking about fairness. Microsoft can use their own vast resources, and it shows.  

Since Teams was never meant to be only for video conferencing, it initially lacked some of the features Zoom has, like breakout rooms and silly hats, but these are finding their way in. I do like the fact that by default you’re not shown a video of yourself at the same size as everyone else. You have most of the same sharing functions for full screen, and apps, but you can’t share just the computer sound without also sharing something of the screen, which limits it’s use for things like exercise classes, but that’s probably not that important for most business conferencing scenarios.  

The layout is much more responsive when in a call and the video window is always full rather than leaving blank spaces. The participant windows are resized to fill all the space no matter how many people are in there. The camera pans left and right to adjust your position and keep you centre shot, albeit not perfectly. A handy thumbnail view of yourself is located discreetly in the corner, which means you can check you’re in shot without having to look at yourself or turn it off completely. And, as I said, the video and audio quality is generally better.  

Verdict

If you’re looking for more than simple video conferencing, and want to combine features like collaborative file sharing, slack style channel messaging, and especially if you already use Office 365, Teams is the one. If you’re not already in the Microsoft ecosystem and need a conferencing solution, then you might be better off with Zoom or Google Meet.  

Tip

If you frequently meet and work with people from a single external organisation, turn on Guest Access and start a Team with the external people as members. The General channel always includes all Team members; set up Private channels to limit access to specific people.  

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