Using multiple computers at home without a dock.

One of the problems I found early on with working from home is that my home office is usually setup for my personal computer and switching cords between my work PC and my personal PC became quite a chore and now that I’ve solved this problem for myself I thought it would be good to share with others how I did it…

Of course to solve this you can just go out and buy a USB-C or USB-3 dock and connect all of your peripherals to that and that will work great. However with many people on lock-down and working from home due to COVID-19 I imagine docks are getting pricier and harder to acquire.

That being said even when I was working from home before all of this COVID-19 aftermath there was a useful tip I got that changed my need for a dock at all and I hope this helps others out there to be more productive and maybe save some money.

Requirements

  • The work computer must be a Windows computer (Windows 10 preferred for multiple displays).
    The client “personal computer” can be a PC or a Mac because Microsoft does have a Remote Desktop Client for Mac.
  • The work computer must have the option for enabling remote desktop.
  • If you’re doing video conferencing the personal PC must have a webcam, microphone and speakers.
  • Basic knowledge of how to connect to a computer with Remote Desktop.

Here’s what I do

Instead of switching cords back and forth between multiple machines or having multiple keyboards and USB cameras etc. I actually found that Windows remote desktop is far more powerful than I’ve given it credit for in the past and can actually make the need for a dock go away. Here’s the walk-through.

Step 1

Connect your work computer to your home network.

Here you can see my laptop (in an old stereo cabinet) below my router with an Ethernet cable attached in the back.

If possible wire it directly into your router with an Ethernet cable and since you’ll be using it remotely it doesn’t even need to be in the same room as your office.

Another view from the back of my work laptop.
Optionally I also adjust power settings in windows to always stay awake when plugged in and I change the lid close action to “Do Nothing”.

Step 2

Enable Remote Desktop on your work PC
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/remote/remote-desktop-services/clients/remote-desktop-allow-access.

Unfortunately if this is not an option for your work laptop I don’t have a good workaround as of yet but leave one in the comments if you find one.

Step 3

Connect all of your displays and peripherals to your personal PC. I have two monitors connected to a Mini PC with a keyboard, mouse, and HP Webcam (the webcam has a built-in microphone).

Step 4

Configure audio on your personal computer.

Before we start a Remote Desktop session it’s important that your personal computer has audio setup properly as that is what is going to be shared with your work applications. So make sure your recording device is correct and your volume is loud enough (you can lower volume in your remote session but you can’t raise it without going back to your personal desktop).

In my case my webcam has my built-in microphone that I use on video conferencing but you can use any microphone connected to your personal computer.

Step 5

Configure your Remote Desktop Settings

On the display tab check “Use all my monitors for the remote session” and un-check “display the connection bar when I use the full screen”. That last option will make your remote session seamless without an annoying bar at the top but in order to exit the remote session you’ll need to use the hotkey “Ctrl-Alt-Break” to bring the bar at the top back to minimize or close the remote session.

On the “Local Resources” tab click “Settings” under audio and choose “Play on this computer” to play audio from your work computer on your personal computer speakers and then choose “Record from this computer” to share your personal computer’s microphone with the Work computer for video/audio conferencing.

Still on the “Local Resources” tab click the “More…” button at the bottom and make sure your webcam under video capture devices is shared so you can use the webcam on your personal computer in video conferencing software on your work computer. Also sharing your clipboard, drives, and printers can be helpful too but be careful and mindful about what personal files you share with your work computer and vice versa.

If your work computer has a webcam built-in you may need to switch camera inputs in your video conferencing software. I have used this setup with Webex, Zoom, & Google Hangouts without issue.

Finally

Connect to a remote desktop session with your work PC and enjoy the use of all of your Monitors and peripherals (keyboard, mouse, camera, etc.) with your work PC and applications without rewiring. Then when you’re done with the work day you can disconnect and use your personal computer as you normally would.

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