UNITED STATES—Many tech startups dream of heading to San Francisco, joining Silicon Valley and changing the world. Not only does it give the business the status it craves, but it also means they are growing in the perfect environment.

Of all the companies in the city, tech startups like to place ping pong tables in their break rooms. The sport has become synonymous with startup culture. Ping pong is very popular in San Francisco, so much so that it’s now Silicon Valley’s favorite game. Movements like Startup Ping Pong have initiated where companies across the city participate in tournaments.

Ping pong is also receiving international attention now too. Every capital city in Australia holds informal events based around ping pong, bringing people together to enjoy a few beers and a slice of pizza or two. In one particular example, River City Labs hosted the first-ever Brisbane Startup Ping Pong Battle.

But how did ping pong become so popular in Bay City? This article will take a closer look.

Reinventing Office Space

It’s known that tech startups in Silicon Valley drive innovation. Their only aim is to do things differently and hope to make a difference. This attitude extends beyond the products they create; it also affects the entire working environment. 

All you need to do is take a peek inside their offices and compare what goes on to the traditional settings of other businesses. To many, it would seem almost alien, from mobile working sections and writing walls to gaming corners and ping pong tables. At the end of the day, their intentions are to keep employees relaxed as much as possible.

And for good reason. Employees are tasked with developing new and intriguing technology that has the potential to change the world, especially in Silicon Valley. In this regards, it makes sense to give workers the freedom to engage their skills. 

Take video games for example. Playing them, even for a short time, engages the brain and activates its problem-solving components. As such, when they head back to the desk, they are in a better frame of mind to overcome a challenge.

That said, while doing things differently is encouraged in such areas, organizations and commentators outside the tech bubble don’t always greet it with the same enthusiasm. 

It mostly comes down to their interpretation of working culture. To them, the term “culture” should refer to how employees and executives can communicate and work together inside the organization, rather than just providing some bells and whistles and letting them get on with it.

This is why ping pong is popular in San Francisco. It’s a chance to get people together, have some fun, relax but still enable the growth of the working culture.

Purpose

The lure of a ping pong table in the office is enough to attract people to apply for jobs at up and coming tech companies. While it’s now become a staple of the startup office, its use in tech organizations can be traced back to the 1990s.

Ping pong had a greater purpose than just showing to prospective employees that they care about creativity and culture. Another main reason why it’s been so popular for so long is that people of all ages can hop into a game and play. Most other sports can’t boast this game, while still promoting critical thinking.

Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at New York University, has been studying the impact of ping pong on our brains for years, leading to her calling it a “brain sport” back in 2011.

She’s not alone in this thinking. Will Shortz, the creator of many New York Times puzzles, has gone on record himself claiming that ping pong is the best brain sport there is. He compares the strategies involved to “chess on steroids”.

Putting The Science Into Tech

Ping pong enhances motor functions in the brain. As such, it improves our long-term memory and allows us to process information at a quicker rate. The more you play, the better these functions become.

From a Silicon Valley tech company’s point of view, this is exactly what they are looking for. Their businesses are based around creating new things that have never been done before, or trying to make a product or platform that simplifies an existing solution. Playing ping pong allows workers in these companies to stimulate their brains.

According to Professor Suzuki, ping pong activates the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for thinking and planning. Stimulating this section while taking part in aerobic exercise stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that allows us to remember information for a long time. 

This results in startup owners and their employees to come up with ideas and strategies that will enable them to overcome any problems that come their way.

Further, another reason why Silicon Valley loves ping pong is that not only does it stimulate the brain, but it also acts as a social hub for team members to interact and get to know one another better. When teams are more connected, communication becomes a lot easier.

The End Goal

San Francisco understands, it seems more than everyone else, that people can’t be at their best all the time – least of all when they’re challenged with a single task. If they are to help the company innovate the next big thing, they must be in an environment that allows them to flourish.

As such, companies in the Bay City encourage their employees to take ping pong breaks. Some even use it for their daily exercise, but it’s mainly available to increase productivity. 

So with all this mind, San Francisco’s love for the game doesn’t like it’s going anywhere any time soon. If you want to start playing yourself, there’s an awesome list of ping pong tables to check out here. It’s got all you need to start enjoying the same benefits as all these tech businesses.