Faxes are a necessity in a virtual office, for at least two reasons. They provide instantaneous transmission of real paper documents; sometimes nothing else will do. And they provide a fast sketch-sending mechanism for use when two people are designing together.
Faxes in the Virtual Office
Three implementation details. First, the fax machine should be on a second phone line, so that a conversation can go on in parallel with its use.
Second, use a real fax machine, not a software version. Software fax products aren't nearly as compatible, require the machine to be in a receptive state (namely, turned on all night if you're going to provide 24-hour fax reception), and usually require the recipient to print out the fax after all anyway. It's just easier and more reliable all around to use a separate fax machine. Besides, standalone machines are cheap.
Third, get a regular thermal paper machine (with a cutter) rather than a plain paper machine. Thermal paper machinees can receive all sizes of documents rather than forcing everything onto the 8.5x11 sheet from the computer's attached laser printer. Thermal machines are much cheaper, the paper is easier to throw away (which is what you'll do with most faxes), and modern machines have anti-curl systems so the problem with having little scrolls of fax paper all over your desk is a thing of the past.
It often makes sense to send a fax to someone and then to call afterwards to talk about it. There's no need to call ahead first. This has some of the advantages of email, in that the recipient can look the stuff over whenever it's convenient for them, and will then be prepared to talk about it when you call later.
Many people don't realize is that faxes sent directly from your computer by faxmodem, print much more clearly than do faxed papers. Fax directly from the computer whereever possible, especially when sending documents with small print.
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1998-01-07: direct computer fax tip.
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