Voice mail allows business professionals access to messages -- even when they're away from the office.

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A call to any business or home used to mean one of three things -- an answer, a busy signal or endless, unanswered ringing.

Increasingly, it now means an encounter with voice mail.

First introduced to the world in the 1970s, voice messages have become a routine part of everyone's day, if not the most common electronic message system used. At work, on your cell phone and at home, almost everyone has at least one voice mail account, and sometimes more than one.

Voice mail providers vary widely, using different approaches and equipment to achieve essentially the same goal: a convenient messaging service for phone users. Such companies provide office voice mail, cell phone voice mail and home voice mail services.

Voice mail once ruled the world in terms of electronic messaging. It's now one of several popular methods of leaving and retrieving important -- and sometimes not so important -- messages for friends, family and business associates. One trend in electronic messaging these days deals with tying all these systems -- voice mail, e-mail, instant messaging -- into integrated systems aimed at keeping users constantly in touch.

However, voice mail started it all, making it possible for people to instantly pass detailed information from one party to another without directly speaking to them. And the old standby has evolved and improved, remaining relevant and popular even during these times of overnight communication revolutions.

In this article, we'll talk about what voice mail is, along with the types of voice mail. We'll also discuss using voice mail, including setting up and using voice mail accounts as well as the future of voice mail.