What’s The Deal With Sociopetal And Sociofugal Workspaces?

In the grand annals of the English dictionary, two words exist that do not regularly factor into most people’s lives – “sociopetal” and “sociofugal.” While they may sound as if they were ripped from the pages of a psychiatrist’s handbook, these words actually refer to two distinctly different types of office space layouts. Depending on the workspace in question, either of these layout types may be beneficial for your office.

The question is, which one? Since we’ll bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard either word before (and if you have, so much the better), we’re going to explain what the two words mean, and how they may influence your office redesign or new layout project. Let’s dive in.



The word “sociopetal” is a design layout approach that attempts to create a seating arrangement whereby all workers can see each other simultaneously. Utilizing a radial approach, a sociopetal design arranges seating so that everyone is facing towards one another, for the purpose of greater interaction. Sociopetal layouts are used in many spaces we frequent in our daily life, from restaurants and playgrounds, to certain types of pedestrian routes.

Sociopetal workspaces are big on interaction, familiarity and a sense of togetherness, which same offices may benefit from, especially if staff are all part of one closely-knit team. Access to sensory stimuli is encouraged, mostly through sociability. The goal is to create a sense of comfort and reassurance through fostered interaction with others. Though many may not favor such a workspace, it is considered widely popular, especially in the modern work age.



By contrast, “sociofugal” has a somewhat opposite meaning. Here, seating is arranged in a grid-style formation, with individuals facing outwards. The term was used heavily to remark upon the decreased socialization of the rural class as they began migrating into urban city environments, which tend to create a less engaging environment. In the context of an office workspace, however, sociofugal spaces can play an important role when it comes to employees who require less stimuli and social interaction in order to focus on their respective tasks.

To make a long story short, sociopetal spaces encourage greater human interaction, while sociofugal spaces actively discourage it. However, that doesn’t mean that the latter is a bad choice. In fact, sociofugal spaces are routinely paired with sociopetal spaces so that workers of different personality types and job roles can work at peak efficiency. Most times, employees may need to utilize both spaces at different times, depending on the task or team project.



“Sociopetal” and “sociofugal” were two words originally coined by psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond during a study of what he originally deemed “socio-architecture.” He also took avid interest in the concept of group dynamics in his efforts to better understand the human mind. Ironically, Osmond also coined the popular term “psychedelic,” perhaps due to his involvement with hallucinogenic drug research during the fledgling 1950s.

Osmond’s creation of these two terms was not restricted to one particular area of human life, which is why sociopetal and sociofugal design philosophies penetrated the office design sphere. The same principles hold true, particularly today, in an age when the open office concept has exploded in popularity, while necessitating tweaks to the formula in order to maximize productivity.

From the overall abandonment of the cubicle layout system, to break and huddle rooms, lounge areas, private work booths and multipurpose meeting rooms, the indelible marks of sociopetal and sociofugal theories play a consistent role in today’s office environments.



At Sensyst, we try not to get hung up too much on fancy words, even if we do find them fascinating enough to share with you, from time to time! Rather, we understand the need to examine each office space individually, in order to recommend the best office design layout or redesign for our clients. Chances are, your workspace will require a mixture of sociopetal and sociofugal-style work areas in order to function at top gear, and it’s our job to make it happen for you.

Are you looking to redesign your office space, or create your very first one? Sensyst is here to help, and we invite you to contact us today so that we can show you our office design expertise, first-hand.