Tech Stack

Claap: asynchronous communication for XXI century

By Nick Hunderson

The remote work revolution is taking place as we speak. Don’t miss out with this new app for asynchronous, non-real-time communication.

You may have noticed that Slack discussions, Zoom calls, and urgent emails have been taking up increasingly more of your time during work in the last few years. This problem has turned out to be so serious that Dropbox and Slack introduced special hours, from 1pm to 4pm, when employees must be present or online in Slack. The rest of the day they can quietly go about their business.

At my last job, I only worked in the early mornings and late evenings. I spent the rest of my day chatting: a brainstorming session, not now but right now, responding to a colleague in the next hour, a letter to the manager by the end of the day. I fell victim to the tension between synchronous and asynchronous communication.

We’ve been accustomed to synchronous communication since childhood: you’re asked something, and you respond immediately. This can be a meeting, a conversation at the coffee machine or an exam on Zoom. But due to the pandemic, we’re increasingly communicating asynchronously, or with a delay, not in real-time. Think of those posts on Slack, or emails, or lecture recordings. But difficulties arise when these two types of communication begin to mix. If you immediately respond to every post in Slack and focus on Inbox Zero, then communication is no longer asynchronous. It all becomes overwhelming.

The creators of the Claap web app believe that a healthy workflow should be asynchronous and should come up with new solutions to our workday problems. Claap is similar to Slack, but instead of text, it consists of three-minute videos. In them, the speaker records themselves showing their laptop screen and briefly talking about the work they’ve done. The rest of the team watch the posted video and leave comments.

In doing so, they replace long meetings where all team members are required to be present, with a video archive. The video can be viewed at the convenience of team members, and commented on when ideas have been well thought over. To make for a more meaningful discussion, comments in Claap are left at certain timecodes or overlapping the video.

I may not have to record my screen or show the results of my work, but often, I look at my colleague’s projects. At a meeting, you have to remember the main points being made and follow along with what’s happening on the screen, all at the same time. Needless to say, doing both is hardly possible. I would be happy to have a video presentation of a colleague’s work with a summary at hand, and I would be happy to hear their ideas and position on each issue again. Claap becomes the solution to this multi-tasking problem.

One of the founders of Claap, Robin Bonduelle, considers any synchronous work as unproductive. “Inefficiency strikes even before meetings: the team is forced to find a slot in crowded agendas, blocked in its progress while waiting for the meeting, and interrupted in its deep work: fluffy consensus and weak commitments lead to follow-up calls to re-align the team”, he writes.

Other asynchronous advocates sometimes demand that face-to-face meetings be excluded from the schedule, such as the company Yac, which has adopted the phrase “Stop all the meetings” as one of its principles. In GitLab teams, Aula and Doist aren’t that radical, and they’re happy to combine asynchronous work with face-to-face meetings. They recognizethe benefits of synchronous communication when it comes to quick feedback, brainstorming, and emergencies. But asynchronous workflows have their advantages: employees in different time zones work on their projects and don’t have to wait for each other in meetings, they’re not tied to a rigid schedule and they don’t burn out due to excessive communication.

Contemporary American corporate culture took shape after World War II and it hasn’t changed since then, according to Steven Sinofsky, former president of the Windows Division. “The symbols of that culture from massive headquarters to strategic planning to hierarchical management were all seeds planted before the War, but the success only proved to make that the way to get things done at scale, and to execute,” he reasons. The pandemic has put communication tools and asynchrony at the center of workflows, and now it’s about to change the old order. New apps like Twist, Loom, tl;dv, Yac, and Grain only confirm these developments.

Who will benefit most?

Teams that are spread across different time zones never manage to get together at the same time for a meeting, but they have the desire to change their workflows. Early adopters claim that tasks are now taking less time than they used to. Claap is designed for project management, Robvin Bonduelle reminds us, but it can’t replace all real-time communication. Claap won’t become a new Zoom, but it will complement the applications that you already use. Video in Claap is recorded in low quality, so it is not suitable for YouTubers.

Quick Tip

The main principle of asynchronous communication is that you don’t receive an immediate response. To make everyone feel comfortable, you have to specify the deadline for feedback: by the evening, by tomorrow or in a week. For more on the principles of asynchrony, read the GitLab Guide.

Why I love it?

  • There is a free version for teams, like in Slack.
  • Showing is easier than explaining, or a picture is worth a thousand words.

What made me frown?

  • You need a good webcam.
  • No mobile app.