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Socio-spatial perspectives on open-plan versus cellular offices

Kerstin Sailer (The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, London, UK)
Matt Thomas (Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 24 July 2020

Issue publication date: 27 April 2021




This research provides a new perspective on the long-standing debate of open-plan versus cellular offices. It analyzes the effects of workplace layouts on organizational outputs such as innovation, efficiency and privacy by considering the physical space of an organization alongside its organizational structure. This socio-spatial approach draws on correspondence theory originating from space syntax to understand the potential for unplanned encounters between diverse groups of people.


Three different organizations are studied, two open-plan and one cellular office. Floor and seating plans are analyzed to calculate the degree of correspondence between the spatial and conceptual closeness of people. Demands for each organization are derived from semi-structured interviews and publicly available information.


The three studied organizations present very different degrees of openness toward others in ways that challenge conventional views of cellular and open-plan offices. In each case, the degree of correspondence matches the demands placed on the organization, and hence, providing a relatively good fit between the organization and interior environment.

Research limitations/implications

A larger sample of open-plan and cellular offices would be useful to consider in further research.

Practical implications

Managers can use the concept of correspondence to generate the appropriate degree of unplanned encounters between the right sets of people in order to achieve the best organization-environment fit.


The main innovation of this paper lies in its socio-spatial approach, considering physical space alongside managerial, organizational choices.



The authors would like to thank the three studied organizations for enabling access to their buildings and people. A thank you also goes to all staff members in these organizations who have willingly contributed their time in answering questions. Finally, the authors are grateful for the efforts of Petros Koutsolampros, who created an automated workflow to calculate Yule’s Q in depthmapX and R.


Sailer, K. and Thomas, M. (2021), "Socio-spatial perspectives on open-plan versus cellular offices", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 382-399.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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