It’s a smash hit in the business world: Ping-pong – or, as it’s professionally known, table tennis. The game develops strategic thinking and builds team spirit, say area employers that allow staff members to play at work.

At several 2019 Top Workplaces, employees – particularly those in their 20s and 30s – paddle away lunch breaks and participate in Friday afternoon tourneys. Like golfers, they take lessons at area clubs to up their game.

But ping-pong isn’t played on a lush outdoor course, and it usually isn’t used to close deals with new clients. Rather, it’s played right in the office, allowing employees from different departments to get to know one another, which can enhance a company’s overall performance. The camaraderie that develops among workers of different ages and job classifications is good for a business. The sport also helps new immigrants familiar with this international sport to feel more at home in the workplace, say those who follow ping-pong’s popularity in the business world.

According to Perkbox, a firm specializing in employee benefits, ping-pong experts point out that the game develops concentration, alertness, and tactical thinking skills, among other benefits.

Advanceon employee Ryan Morris (right) and coworkers take in the action.
TRACIE VAN AUKEN/For the Inquirer / Philadelphia Inquirer
Advanceon employee Ryan Morris (right) and coworkers take in the action.

Deacom Inc. in Chesterbrook is a software development firm whose employees enjoy Friday ping-pong tournaments. Deacom develops solutions to help manufacturers and distributors manage their business processes.

Melissa Richardson, Deacom hiring and office manager, said that ping-pong and other games allow Deacom employees “to talk but in a non-formal situation.” They get to interact and see how their individual jobs and talents can mesh to advance the firm’s business to “build a collaborative environment.”

“Most of the people that tend to play are on my team at Deacom, so it was an easy way to develop friendships with the people I work with every day,” said technical writer Julia Quigley. She has to “make sure I wear the right shoes” for a game day, but it’s definitely worth it.

“It’s a great way to get some exercise both physically and mentally,” she said. “We all seem to be pretty competitive, so it’s a real ego boost to get the perfect shot across the current champ of the group.”

At the Trolley Car Table Tennis Club in Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood, players take lessons to improve their game for workplace tourneys. Real estate developer Ken Weinstein started the nonprofit club in 2010 to meet the need for a local table-tennis meeting place. The club has nine tables and attracts both experts and amateurs. “We see people from 6 years old to 90 years old,” he said. “It’s better than a game of golf. You don’t need three hours.”

Weinstein played competitive table tennis during his school days in central New Jersey. “Ping-pong is a game and table tennis is a sport,” he said, though both are played the same way.

According to the New York Times, the game was developed in England and named “ping-pong” for the sound the bouncing ball makes. Game manufacturer Parker Bros. acquired the trademark for “Ping-Pong” in the United States. Table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988. Since then, restaurants, bars and clubs like Trolley Car have sprung up to cater to the 20- and 30-somethings who grew up playing the sport in their basements. Businesses soon started installing tables and holding office tournaments to cater to Gen Xers and millennials who view the sport in the same way that earlier generations took to company-sponsored bowling leagues. A game may only take 15 minutes, so workers can fit them in during breaks or their lunch hour.

Bryan Little, business unit director for food and beverage, is considered one of Advanceon’s top players
TRACIE VAN AUKEN/For the Inquirer / Philadelphia Inquirer
Bryan Little, business unit director for food and beverage, is considered one of Advanceon’s top players

At Avanceon in Exton, engineers devise automation programs for manufacturers and other businesses around the world. On a recent Friday afternoon, about 20 employees at the 2019 Top Workplace lined up to play ping-pong. Beverages, including beer, are served at these start-of-the-weekend games.

“It’s been part of our culture for a long time,” said Mary Negron, manager of human resources and administration. “At least 15 years. Way before it was trendy.”

About 25 of the company’s 60 local employees are regular participants in the Friday tourneys. Mike Fazzini, an engineer in the food and beverage division, and Bryan Little, business unit director for food and beverage, are the top players. While waiting to play, they chatted with Brian Fenn, vice president of operations, an executive who admits he isn’t the most skilled member of his tourney team. “They still let him play,” joked Fazzini, current holder of the company’s coveted ping-pong trophy.

James Zou, another Avanceon project engineer, even brought in a robo-pong to pitch balls to fellow employees to help them practice their swings.

The men said they enjoy the game for the camaraderie they develop and as a “stress reliever” on deadline days. And the games do not interfere with workers’ getting their jobs done, Negron said. “Our guys are very responsible. It fits our culture to work hard and play hard.”

Rob Herman, a program manager and engineer for Avanceon, said typical work days aren’t 9 to 5. “We’re working late. You play ping-pong – it loosens you up, keeps the mood fun,” he said. “It’s a good little perk. It gets people talking, hanging out.”

Advanceon’s Rob Herman, program manager and engineer, has been playing since childhood. “You play ping-pong – it loosens you up, keeps the mood fun,” he said. “It’s a good little perk. It gets people talking, hanging out.”
TRACIE VAN AUKEN/For the Inquirer / Philadelphia Inquirer
Advanceon’s Rob Herman, program manager and engineer, has been playing since childhood. “You play ping-pong – it loosens you up, keeps the mood fun,” he said. “It’s a good little perk. It gets people talking, hanging out.”

On this Friday, women employees looked on from the sidelines, with engineer Nataina Velez admitting she didn’t yet know how to play but might try to learn.

“It’s really fun to watch,” said project coordinator Stef Colbert.

Doug Wallace, a senior IT support specialist for Analytical Graphics Inc., a Top Workplace in Exton, said his company holds a couple of tournaments each year that he looks forward to, as well as other games. “There’s people I’ve met playing table tennis. … We talk more than we were during the day.”

“I was looking for some way to stay active. … I played sports my whole life,” Wallace said. Now that he’s in his 40s, he’s found that table tennis offers cardiovascular benefits without the risk of injury of other more physically challenging sports. “I believe younger players do it as well for exercise and the love of the game.”

Many workers recalled playing ping-pong as children in their basements or family rooms. Herman said his family would use a match to determine who had to wash the dishes after dinner.

Wallace grew up with two older brothers. It was a rare game that he won. “They would always whip me. It wasn’t fun back then,” he remembered.

Avanceon’s team members have gotten to match their ping-pong skills against contractors from other countries. The Avanceon players said they’d had some “amazing” games against a Pakistani group – “illuminating how far we had to go,” Fenn added.

At the Trolley Car club, Weinstein also sees globalization in action. “It’s got to be the most diverse club I’ve ever seen – all different economic levels … from all over the world.”

Playing ping-pong helps bring people together, he pointed out. “It’s a game for everybody.”