Image: Avail Technologies
Last spring, Avail Technologies planned a virtual virtual pinewood derby for its team. It wasn’t something the State College-based technology company typically does, but then again, 2020 wasn’t a typical year.
“With the pandemic shutting down the office in March and sending home more than 100 employees to work, our FEW Crew (which stands for Fun, Enjoyable Workplace) knew that they had to do something to boost morale,” says Avail President and CEO Dorsey Houtz. “We were constantly on the lookout for ways to make working from home as fun as it was when we were coming to the office. When I first heard about the pinewood derby idea, I knew it would be a lot of fun.”
Employees were offered kits to whittle their miniature wooden race cars and drop them off before race day on Aug. 28, 2020. Dorsey and Cassidy Houtz, corporate event planner, would oversee the races and act as the announcers.
Mike Shuey, a customer support process controller at Avail, was one of the lucky FEW Crew members who was onsite to oversee the derby, which was attended virtually by the rest of the AVAIL team. “I enjoy doing this kind of stuff,” he said. “We weren’t going to let the pandemic stop all the fun.”
In the end, there were about 20 race cars, 11 heats and awards given for overall wins, best in show and best car design.
While the event was the first derby, it’s just one of many events that kept their team connected over the past year. “We’ve had family bingo nights, virtual family craft nights, March Madness and Music Bingo night. We are currently taking submissions for FEW Crew Funniest Home Videos,” Shuey says.
Fun and community is a strategic part of their employee-owned business. “Avail stands apart from other companies because of our employee-ownership culture and dedication to our employees and customers,” Shuey says. “It’s a family atmosphere and we like to work hard and play hard.”
He says that the work culture is “a direct outcome of having a stake in the game with how we want our company to grow and succeed… It creates a sense of ownership, which directly affects our decision-making for the best interest of the company. It keeps us mindful of spending, savings and making improvements wherever we can to help streamline processes.”
It’s a strategy that’s working. During COVID, Avail Technologies had a profitable year and didn’t have to lay off a single employee, allowing a concentration on solving customers’ pain during the pandemic.
The company specializes in optimizing transportation systems, and during this past year, Shuey says they were able to have all hands on deck to transition customers as the landscape continually changed. “We worked hand in hand with customers to make sure they were set up for success. We transitioned our annual User’s Conference to a virtual event within months of the shut down and our customer base truly appreciated our efforts and provided feedback that our event was better than some of the larger virtual events that took place that year.”
Named one of the best places to work in Pa for 2020 by the Central Penn Business Journal for the second consecutive year, Avail Technologies is an enterprise solutions provider for the public transit industry. The company got its start when it spun off of Raytheon Corporation in 1999. Since then, the company has grown into a leading technology company working with transit systems all over the country. In State College, its technologies help optimize the local transit industry. The company is also employee-owned through an ESOP.
To learn more about Avail Technologies, visit availtec.com.