How A Ping Pong Company Plans To Reshape Office Communities (And The City Of Chicago)
Robert Blackwell’s dream is to break down the barriers that keep office tenants within isolated social bubbles. To achieve that goal, he has chosen a rather unorthodox weapon: ping pong.
“In an office building, you can’t exactly knock on the door of the company next door and say ‘How are you?’” said Blackwell, the CEO of Killerspin, a provider of table tennis equipment and experiences. “Having a room where employees can gather and play rounds of ping pong can foster a sense of community that keeps employees productive and happy.”
While many new buildings have what Blackwell calls “check-the-box” amenities, like tenant lounges and gyms, he thinks these spaces fall short when it comes to creating a sense of community. As the competition to attract tenants heats up, community-oriented amenities can make a significant difference in terms of having tenants sign — and renew — their leases.
Blackwell’s solution is to install a common space dedicated to play, shared by all building occupants. Killerspin partners with building owners and operators to install table tennis equipment and experiences that help tenants and employees unplug from technology and connect with each other.
According to Blackwell, building owners can take a lesson from coworking providers, which have seen immense success by offering workspace that helps their occupants transcend company boundaries.
“I think that the industry is behind in that regard,” Blackwell said. “Coworking companies are providing space-as-a-service. They’re not just offering desks, they’re offering the space and the equipment to make tenants feel like they’re part of something bigger.”
Office buildings and corporate culture are fueling an epidemic of loneliness that Blackwell hopes communal play can combat. He imagines building employees taking midday breaks to head down to play a couple of rounds of table tennis to clear their minds and connect with new players, and groups of friends gathered around the tables at the end of a long week.
But for Killerspin, the goal of connecting people goes far beyond office buildings.
The company also organizes the UnPlugNPlay Festival, a week of events across Chicago that encourages employees, families and friends to put down their laptops and phones to play a couple of rounds of table tennis.
“Everything is digitizing, even connecting with your friends, family and the people you love is moving online,” Blackwell said. “This festival is the rebellion against that digitization. This is the chance to use play to connect with new people.”
Through the festival, Killerspin is hoping to break a world record by making 40,000 connections through table tennis, either by playing together or exchanging and signing ping pong paddles. The festival is partnering with numerous Chicago building owners and real estate companies, which are providing spaces for the event, and Blackwell said the event is still accepting new sponsors.
Blackwell said he hopes the festival will also serve to spread the word about the need for employees to take breaks from their work and from their screens. While employers and building owners know that stepping away from technology is core to employee wellness, many are not doing enough to promote in-office activities that help employees unplug from work.
Blackwell sees the festival coming at a critical time for the businesses and people of Chicago.
“Chicago has a new mayor, a new governor, and this is our chance to tell the world that this is what Chicago is about,” Blackwell said. “We are known for the wrong reasons right now. We want to connect people from all over the city and show the world that Chicago is a beautiful city and a great place to do business.”
This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Killerspin. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.