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Correspondence and Non-Correspondence: Using office accommodation to calculate an organisation's propensity for new ideas

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Abstract

Correspondence or non-correspondence is one of the early space syntax concepts, originally proposed by Hillier and Hanson in 1984 in ‘The Social Logic of Space’. Describing the overlap between spatial and transpatial solidarities, Hillier and Hanson argued that socio-spatial systems with high degrees of correspondence are systems in which the transpatial category of people (kinship, gender, profession, beliefs, etc.) tightly overlap with their ordering in space, hence similar people occupy proximate spaces. This creates an exclusive system with strong boundaries. The opposite case, a non-correspondence system thrives on openness, is inclusive and brings people together across multiple scales.
We maintain that this essential description of socio-spatial relations has received relatively little scholarly attention over the last decades. Reviewing the literature, we argue that the theory of non-correspondence can unlock why and how organizations are able to innovate and enable the emergence of new ideas.
Thus, in this paper we provide a fresh perspective on correspondence by examining organizations occupying office space. On the basis of an odds ratio, we propose a way to calculate the degree of correspondence or non-correspondence in the socio-spatial system of organisational workplace accommodation using various data sets including the office layout of an organisation, the organization chart, the seating plan, visitor counts, observed space usage and observed interaction data within and across transpatial groupings.
Bringing detailed data on two case studies to bear – a law firm and a research organisation – we highlight different interaction profiles of correspondence or non-correspondence. We use this quantitative analysis in conjunction with qualitative data identifying organisational cultures and operational contexts those organisations were placed in, so that we can judge innovative potential and the propensity for new ideas to emerge in these organisations.
Findings suggest that the law firm operated predominantly as a correspondence system and the research organisation showed high degrees of non-correspondence, particular towards visitors. In both cases, however, subgroups with the contrasting organising principles of correspondence and non-correspondence were found nested inside at the group level. In both organisations correspondence offers the key to understanding how and why innovation emerged or did not emerge.
Therefore, we provide a new way of understanding organisational innovations arising from spatial and social conditioning. Rather than treating spatial and social factors in separation, we bring them together. Embedding spatial thinking in management theory and management thinking in spatial theory allows us to make a truly novel and interdisciplinary contribution, which is valuable for further theory development, but also to practitioners in both domains. By developing a rigorous and repeatable method for quantifying the degree of correspondence or non-correspondence in the socio-spatial system of an organization’s workplace accommodation, we can highlight the contribution an office layout makes to the emergence of new ideas in organizations.