To silence a ping pong table in the office

Ming
3 min readJul 1, 2024

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Imagine you’ve joined a company as a manager. Your team works in an open office, and there’s a ping pong table. Whenever they have time, employees play a round or two, which has been a distraction for those still working or those who don’t know how to play. How would you address the noise complaints?

Photo by Startup Stock Photos

The situation is tough. Since this has been the norm long before you joined, there might be underlying office dynamics at play:

  • Perhaps your boss is one of the avid ping pong players.
  • Maybe the team has been winning annual tournaments against rival companies, and it has been the biggest morale boost all year round. (If this is really the case, your career choice is quite questionable.)

Restrictive solutions are usually sub-optimal

Therefore, removing the ping pong table would be the worst move. It is demoralizing, and you may upset some important names. Remember that you are new to the company: You need support from old-timers, and you need to avoid making enemies.

The next logical move — which I believe is what most companies are taking — is restricting the games to lunch breaks. Depending on the population of ping pong players in your company, people may start fighting for the precious time slots to get a grasp at the paddles.

You can keep on patching your solution. On top of forbidding games outside of lunch hours, in order to avoid people fighting for a play, you may limit access to the table as a reward of work. Now, ping pong enthusiasts are going to game the system. Plus, those who don’t play aren’t going to be incentivized.

A mediocre solution is to soundproof the area. You put up walls around the game area that can keep the noise inside, and you install soundproof doors that doesn’t stop beeping unless it’s properly shut.

On the surface, you are keeping all the freedom that your ping pong players have been enjoying while increasing the productivity to those who aren’t playing or can’t play. However, you may be interpreted as condemning the players for the noises they make. You now lose support from those ping pong lovers. Again, you would like to not rub anyone in the wrong way here.

The best solution joins the game

This video (in Chinese) gave the best option. You purchase some treadmills. Place them close to that ping pong table. Only after that, you build up that soundproof chamber.

The addition of treadmills does you two favors:

  • First, no one can accuse you of targeting at the ping pong players, because they are no longer the only noise-makers in the workplace. On the paper, you’ll just say, “I am adding some noisy equipments here, so I’ll be responsible and fund the establishment of the soundproof chamber”.
  • Second, now you are giving the non-players something to enjoy as well. You are making the shared space used more fairly, and you are also making more friends outside of the ping pong players’ circle.

On a higher level, this technique can be summarized as “join the problem before fixing it”. It transforms a potential reputation loss into a gain, shifting the narrative from “taking away fun” to “creating fun and improving fairness while taking on responsibility.” The original goal of fixing the long-standing annoyance is now slid through as a side effect.

That’s wisdom in management, and it also applies outside of work. Can you see yourself using this strategy in your life? Do you see this much deliberation as an overkill most of the time? I’d love to hear about your opinions in the comments below.

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