The shutdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic proved that many CPAs and employers could convert to cloud-based remote working environments almost overnight. Laptops connected to home Wi-Fi were great for a while, but the setups began to falter with constant use over weeks and then months.
What was "make do" started to come unraveled. CPAs wanted all their big screens, full-size keyboards, and printers and scanners back. In other words, they wanted the office duplicated at home.
That's where a docking station comes in. A docking station is a piece of hardware that includes ports to connect all manner of peripherals such as scanners, printers, monitors, keyboards, ethernet cables, card readers, and almost any other device you can imagine. The bottom line is that you can have a full-fledged workstation when in the office, then disconnect your laptop and, once in your home office, connect it to your docking station and have that same full-fledged workstation at home.
The latest and greatest docking stations connect via Thunderbolt 3, which also provides power to the laptop. That, of course, requires a modern laptop that also supports Thunderbolt 3. This marriage is nothing short of spectacular. That one connection enables the docking station drivers to control its operation and that of all the peripherals attached to it.
I'm confident that other practitioners will, like me, find a docking station easy and convenient to attach to a monitor capable of higher resolution than their laptop screens, as well as a plethora of other peripherals (it takes less than 5 seconds to attach one connector).
The concept around the docking station is to merge the expansion capabilities of the traditional desktop computer with the portability of the laptop. The device adds flexibility to your laptop by adding the convenience of portability while you're traveling, but allowing you the ease of a desktop while you're at your desk. With a docking station, you aren't constantly plugging in and unplugging peripherals. The docking station stays at your desk regardless of where you and your laptop are. It remains connected to all your peripherals. When you return, you simply connect your laptop to the docking station and you now have all your peripherals available, without plugging in a single extra cable.
Models, brands, capabilities, quality, and costs of docking stations vary widely. I have enjoyed a good experience with pairing my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 4 to my formerly desktop workstation-driven office setup and then duplicating the setup at home. The docking station I chose was the Kensington Thunderbolt 3 SD5300T. Competitors of note include the OWC Thunderbolt 3, CalDigit TS3 Plus, and StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Dock.
Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the AICPA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4056.