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Are The Tables Turning for Ping-Pong in the Workplace?

17th May 2016

ping-pong-google.pngJust four years ago you were not an innovative tech company if you did not have a ping-pong table to bounce balls and ideas on while your freshly ground coffee slowly went cold in a nearby breakout pod. 

It appears though the humble ping-pong table is falling out of favour along with beanbags, deckchairs and other signifiers that say ‘Hey, we have a laid back corporate culture here’. This workplace phenomenon, according to Bloomberg, can be traced back to online goliaths: Google and Zappos, who were the first to develop a ‘relaxed and fun’ culture in the workplace. The goal was to create a comfortable and enjoyable environment for employees to not only flourish and blossom but also stay with the company.

This model was seized upon by start-ups and other creative agencies in the belief that:

Beanbags + Ping-Pong Table = Google-Sized Profits 

So all good, everyone is happy playing ping-pong and spending their days on beanbags and deckchairs while intermittently slipping off for a few Z’s in a vacant sleep-pod. Apparently not. So what gives on the threat to ping-pong in the workplace?

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported earlier this month a drop in ping-pong sales in California and linking this, incredibly, to the possibility of a popping technology bubble. The WSJ tracked down Simon Ng - owner of Billiard Wholesale in San Jose - who said he was taking ping-pong table orders regularly from a certain global social networking company in Silicon Valley but since late 2014 that stopped. He goes on to figure they either ran out of space “or they’re having company problems.” Not just relying on Mr Ng's order book and business commentary skills, the WSJ does, to their credit, go onto correlate ping-pong sales with venture capital deals made in the same period which can be found here

What else could be slowing down ping-pong sales? Well, The Cut reports, it could be generational? Are millennials less interested in table sport and actually interested in learning and growth opportunities? Or are wider employees (returning to Bloomberg) finding the presence of ping-pong tables “insulting” and “a consolation prize for lower salaries and uninteresting work”?

It’s a fascinating and very 21st Century issue that doesn't, at this stage, offer any clear answers. It does, though, highlight the very fluid nature of all things, particularly around the workplace, the employees and their expectations. What was fun & funky four years ago can become tired and contrived now.

We do hope, however, that our unwitting protagonist – the ping-pong table – will survive. At the end of the day a ping-pong table remains a ping-pong table, even if those flighty signifiers up and leave and bounce away to the next corporate craze. 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: Google vs. The US Government with Steve Vinter playing Governor Deval Patrick at the Google offices in Boston. 

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