How many of you take four years to finally know an office neighbor’s name?

P Chang
5 min readJun 3, 2024

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Photo by Cherrydeck on Unsplash

For the good part of the last three years, I have been developing a low key anxiety every time I go to the office. The “low key” is because I almost only go there once a week, or sometimes once in a few weeks.

The anxiety is also only specific to one office neighbor who alway sits two rows away from me but his desk is facing mine, with perhaps a 60 degree angle as our monitors are set facing opposite direction as mine leaning towards the big windows while his is the central walkway. So if we both showed up in the office, we pretty much saw each other all day long, in a low key way as well.

Since our company is still among the less popular ones that endorse the “hybrid” model, in other words, “come as you wish, WFH as you want” style, the chance I bump into this office mate is about once a month. Worse to my case, the office spots are still mostly free to grab first come first serve so only mine was among the few with name tag fixed.

Here comes the core of the anxiety part. This officemate from day one when we were allowed to go back to the office in the springtime of 2021 greeted me with a big smile in the hallway, and called out my name loud and clear. He acted as if we knew each other well but not close enough to stop to have a small chat. After a few similar rounds, I realized he indeed knew me well but I did not know who he was and already missed the golden window to ask him for his name.

I joined this company a few months before the 2020 SIP started and I always made sure to turn on the video every time when I have meetings with others so that I could get some facetime for my colleagues. Most of them did the same. I also always better remember people’s faces than their names. But this gentleman comes up blank in my company team mates memory inventory.

Who the hell is this person?! I decided to pick up clues and try to narrow down the org chart search scope.

Once when my boss was sitting there with me in the kitchen having a serious working lunch together, this mysterious man walked by smiling kindly and knowingly. He was obviously a shy person but his body language showed me that not only he knew me but also my boss as well. After he nodded to us and passed by, I asked my boss with my lips moving silently: “who is that?” My boss shrugged and apparently he did not know him either.

Over the years, I also picked up that he sometimes talked to one or two engineers I know well, with body languages like their superior or boss type. I searched on the org chart and could not find any of these engineers’ upper management members with a face like his. Gradually I also sort of knew who his superior boss was. But that boss is managing a big team of teams of teams. And, our company does not mandate that everyone upload a profile photo, which also made my detective job less fruitful.

Perhaps he also applied a fixed desk like me, so I could solve this myth by sneaking to his aisle and having a peek. But this is such a low key anxiety that it always only hit me whenever I went to the office and ran into him.

Plus, there are always some very hard-working folks sitting around his area day in and day out. It would be super embarrassing for me to walk to his office area and look for the potential name tag on his desk.

I let this low key anxiety sitting duck with time go by. Every time I ran into him, after he nodded to me and smiled his very friendly smile and murmured my name, I alway returned a broad smile and walked fast as ever as I feared if he stopped and started a small talk with me and before long he would realize that I did not know who he was!

Now three years have passed and one long time working mate finally joined me to apply for a fixed desk sitting next to me so that we could at least working in the office once a week and catch up lots of work as well as personal lives and share office gossips, which actually becomes such a rarity nowadays.

Last week, my new office confidant and I came to the office for an in-office celebration event. While we were lining up for the free lunch, this gentleman suddenly popped up from nowhere and walked towards us smiling and nodding. I smiled back knowingly with my low key anxiety kicked in, ever stronger than before. “Gee, I really need to get to know who he is before it is too late!” I heard me speaking loudly to myself inside my brian.

Fortunately, he extended his hand to my new office bestie (who is a very well known iron lady among her peers) and introduced himself in a quick murmured way. I don’t think both me and my bestie registered who he was at the moment so we smiled cooly and vaguely and made some small talk. He said he was looking for his teammates for lunch together. I immediately chimed in, perhaps a little bit too eager and hasty when I looked back, to show off that I knew who he was by pointing out where his big boss sat, which was based on my years long observation to reach an accurate assumption.

It only came to me who he was after he left, heading for the table where his boss was sitting. He was indeed a person that my team, especially me, had been working closely with in my first twelve months working in this company. He slacked me a lot of times asking for getting some specific things done for him and his team and he attended the monthly cross function meetings I hosted. Now looking back, he was perhaps among the very few rarely turning on their cameras for such big meetings and he indeed in the end asked me privately to remove him from these meetings.

That explains everything.

I was just relieved that after four years I finally connected the dots and solved this mystery and avoided a big embarrassment. This is also something that could only happen due to the pandemic.

How many of us took four years to know an office mate’s name who sits face to face two aisles down the open office area, and worked and slacked each other occasionally all these years?

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P Chang

It all started with the 2020 SIP, when suddenly you became very reflective.